BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — Brooklyn Center High School held a different kind of pep rally Friday morning.
Students, staff, and parents packed the school gymnasium to honor a senior class unlike any that has come before.
"This is the most scholarship dollars that have ever filtered through the school," said Jackie Hayden, college and career coordinator at Brooklyn Center High School.
The money will help reduce educational expenses for many of the school's 81 graduates, and for 15 students, it means they won't spend a dime on tuition.
"That's nearly 20 percent of your graduating seniors going to college with a full tuition scholarship, or more," said Choua Lee, another College and Career coordinator for the school. "They have broken records."
KARE11 Reporter Kent Erdahl spoke to two of the biggest standouts from a class that stand alone in school history. Na'Taliyah Edison and Fenan Gudina were the school's first-ever recipients of the prestigious Gates Scholarship, which is awarded to just 300 students nationwide.
Na'Taliyah Edison: "Basically, it's just a full-ride scholarship to any college in the world that you want to go to."
Kent Erdahl: "Just a full-ride scholarship? Doesn't it include all educational expenses and extend through graduate school?"
Edison: "Yes. (laughing) Yeah, I'm happy I got it. I was shocked."
Erdahl: "Where are you going and what do you want to do?"
Edison: "I'm going to the number one HBCU, which is in Atlanta, Georgia. It's Spellman College. It's an all-girls school, and I will be majoring in Biology on a pre-med track to become a dermatologist."
Fenan Gudina: "I'm going to Carlton College in Northfield, Minnesota. I'm planning to learn computer science, and I hope to pursue Artificial Intelligence in graduate school."
Gudina isn't just a Gates scholar. He will also graduate as valedictorian of the Brooklyn Center senior class despite being relatively new to the school and the country.
Gudina: "I came from Ethiopia."
Erdahl: "When did you move here from Ethiopia?"
Gudina: "I moved here in 2021."
Erdahl: "You only came to this country in 2021 and you're graduating at the top of your class? That blows my mind."
Gudina: "Yeah. I knew my hard work would pay off but I would have never expected that."
To be fair, it blows his parents' minds too.
"We did not expect this," said Dereje Gemechu, Gudina's father. "We come from so far away. This is the best country and the best chance they have to use this opportunity to become someone and he makes it. That's what makes me happy. I'm very proud."
Na'Taliyah Edison's mother, Darcell Ram, is pretty proud as well.
"Yes, so proud of her," she said. "But it doesn't surprise me for a minute," She's amazing. She's going to break a lot of generational curses with this one. She's really set the bar high for our entire family."
Erdahl: "Your mother talked about breaking a generational curse. What does that mean?"
Edison: "No one in my family has went to college. My mom also did not finish high school, so it's just a big deal for my family that I'm doing this."
And none of it would have been possible without big effort.
"She worked every day, all day," Ram said of her daughter's work ethic. "She pulls more hours than any adult I know."
"There's no sleeping at all," Gemechu said, of his son's effort. "I'd be coming from work at 2 a.m. and he's still sitting. I tell him go and sleep. He'd say, 'There's something left, I'm not going to sleep.'"
Both students credit their families for that drive, which is now propelling them into uncharted territory.
Gudina: "The main thing I was thinking was to come here, get a better education and do something for my people, so this opportunity means a lot to me, and my hard work paid off."
Edison: "My Mom just adopted four of my cousins, so I did not want her to worry about paying for me, or how I'm going to get to college. That was something that I was really worried about for my mom. So to go to college for free and not have her worry about anything, it's honestly a blessing."
A blessing worth celebrating alongside an incredible class.
Erdahl: "What is it about this class? You have so many big scholarship winners."
Na'Taliyah Edison: "I don't know. I feel like we're just motivated. We just want to get our money, go to college, just stay on top of the game. My class the best class, we just... I don't know."
Gudina: "I have only been here two years, but everybody was welcoming and they helped me, they supported me. Especially applying to college and stuff. This school has prepared me for this and I'm really thankful."
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