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Hechinger Report columnist Andre Perry puts his doctoral robe on Dominique Newton, a student reader, at a letter writing campaign rally protesting cuts to Louisiana’s merit scholarship program, TOPS, on April 4, 2017, at the Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market. Credit: Cheryl Gerber

Dear Gov. Edwards, Sen. Morrish, and Rep. Landry,

My name is Dominique Newton and I am a freshman at Xavier University of Louisiana. I started high school not knowing what I wanted to do with my future, but I was sure of one thing. I knew I was going to go to college, no matter what.

After leaving New Orleans due to (Hurricane) Katrina, my mom took my five siblings and me to Shreveport, Louisiana, where we suffered a great deal. For eight years, my family and I went through a lot of hardships. I failed seventh grade because I missed too many days of schools due to being homeless. I didn’t let this get me down though. Once I turned 16, I contacted my father who lived in New Orleans. My struggle didn’t cease. I soon discovered my dad was a dialysis patient who couldn’t work. Education was the only way for me to help my family.

Once we moved back, I attended G.W. Carver Collegiate Academy where I was first introduced to T.O.P.S. I knew the fund wouldn’t cover my whole financial aid bill but I knew it would help with a scholarship I can get. At my old school, they weren’t close with their students and the teachers seemed to not care. I was at a school that cared not only about me but my family too. Soon my life revolved around getting a 20 or higher on my ACT and in my junior year, I pulled off a 24. I was excited for myself and my other classmates who also passed the score.

Once I graduated as the class valedictorian, I knew I would be able to pay for school with a scholarship and T.O.P.S. I planned on going to Louisiana State University, my dream school, but once T.O.P.S was cut I no longer could go there. I thought I wouldn’t be able to go to college because I had already paid my orientation fees for LSU and school started for college students in less than 2 weeks. My best friend Imani told me about Xavier’s scholarships for Valedictorians and Salutatorians, so I applied in hopes of getting in. I got in and the little money T.O.P.S gave me helped a little. I still had to take out loans that wouldn’t have been needed if the fund wasn’t cut.

My situation with T.O.P.S was unexpected but it was for the best. I love it at my school, but there are students in Louisiana who won’t be as lucky as I was. Low-income students don’t have the same opportunities as other teens in America and government assistance is needed. If T.O.P.S were restored for low-income students, this will help educate children in Louisiana who come from a tough background much like my own. Thank you again for having me today.

Everyone have a blessed day!

Dominique Newton

Freshman, Xavier University of Louisiana

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