Jeffrey Warren was placed in a difficult situation when he found out that he was the winner of a $1,000 scholarship offered by the local Martin Luther King Senior Citizens Club. On senior awards night, when his name was announced, it was initially greeted by silence — and then the auditorium was slowly filled by nervous giggles. The scholarship was meant to honor the achievements of an African-American student from the Martin Luther King High School. Warren, however, is white.
James Eng of MSNBC.com writes that even though Warren accepted the award at the May 22nd ceremony, and even shook the presenter's hand, after he went home with his parents and had a chance to spend some hours in reflection and family conversation, he made the decision to give the award money back.
"They said they would accept it back. They were very nice about it. They thanked me for being generous and for being a great kid," Warren told msnbc.com on Tuesday.
Although the information letter attached to the scholarship application makes clear that only African-Americans are "encouraged" to apply, since Warren applied for it online, he didn't see the letter which was sent directly to the school's guidance office.
Etta Brown, the president of the senior club that sponsored the scholarship, said there were members who thought allowing Jeffrey to keep the scholarship was the right thing to do. But they still accepted the money back, since the club didn't feel it was right to go against Jeffrey's personal choice. Still, even without the money, it's hard to argue that Jeffery doesn't deserve it, even just for displaying such class.
"I think it says a lot for his character and it says a lot of the character for the family," said King High School Principal Darel Hansen.
"This was not something the school or school district asked him to do. He in our opinion won the award in good faith though there was a mix-up."
Jeffrey's scholarship was later awarded to a runner-up — a female African-American student.
While virtue might bring its own reward, Jeffrey's display of character led to rewards of a more pecuniary kind. Rod Warren, Jeffrey's father and the high-school's teacher of language arts said that his son won three other scholarships, totaling $4,500, and since the story first hit the local media, there have been phone calls from people interested in donating to Jeffrey's college fund.
Several teachers also showed up at his graduation party at his home on Saturday and presented him with an envelope with $351 in cash donations collected from school staff.
Warren said he plans to attend San Diego State University in the fall where he will major in English or business, or both. He says he wants to teach, like his dad.