RIVERDALE – The first letter contained the best news she had received Christmas Day. It told Sherlita Hawkins, a University of Maryland freshman, that she was one of two people chosen for a full four-year scholarship to the University of Maryland.
“I ran to go tell my family, I was so excited,” said Sherlita, 19, who with her identical twin had delayed opening envelopes from the university because of the “financial aid mess” they had been going through.
After hearing Sherlita’s good fortune, her sister, Sherita, ran to her room to read the letter she had received. “She came running out, saying, `Guess who’s the other winner?'” said their mother, Felicia Hawkins.
The twins are the first recipients of a $2,800-a-year scholarship set up by Walt Williams, a former Terrapin basketball star who graduated in 1992 and is now a Sacramento Kings forward- guard.
The 25-year-old Williams is the youngest person in university history to endow a scholarship. He established the $125,000 fund last month in honor of his late father, Walter Sr.
“He never had an opportunity to finish his education,” Williams said in a written statement. “I felt it was up to me to have a scholarship in his name to help people like himself who didn’t have a chance to go to college.”
The identical twins said they were not familiar with Williams before they received the grant but are looking forward to meeting him in February at a university ceremony.
“I watch all of the Kings’ games now,” Sherlita said, laughing.
The minority scholarship is awarded on the basis of financial need and academic performance in high school. Athletic ability or connections to basketball are not considered. Sherita was, however, a basketball manager for her high school team for three years.
The sisters, who live with their single mom and two brothers, graduated last year from Parkdale High School in Riverdale. They took college-level classes and maintained A-plus averages. They entered the university in the fall but were thinking about leaving in the spring because of money problems.
“I think that this scholarship really motivates me because I was getting really depressed with loans and stuff,” Sherita said.
The twins had been accepted to several other schools in the East but chose Maryland because they could continue living with their mother and stay together. Sherita, who was salutorian at Parkdale, turned down a full scholarship to the University of Rochester because her sister had not applied there.
The sisters have done most things together.
They both work in the Federal Aviation Administration as secretaries, jobs they took great pains to find. They took the same high school classes and served as president and vice president of the Parkdale honor society.
But though they have not yet decided on majors, they have different career goals.
Sherlita would like to be a physical therapist and Sherita wants to be an engineer.
Dressed in matching black turtlenecks and black pants, the sisters tried to recall the last time they were separated. It was a traumatic experience at summer camp before fourth grade. They were assigned to different cabins.
“We’d always try to be in each other’s rooms because they scheduled our activities at different times,” Sherita said. They hardly got to see each other, she said. With their twin scholarships, they won’t have to worry about being separated for the next four years. -30-