Central High student receives $250,000 Gates scholarship

jmink@macon.comApril 25, 2014 

Joseph Lofton remembers a time last year when he was drawing portraits to raise money for a trip.

His French class was traveling to France, and his family couldn’t afford the deposit for the venture. So Lofton took matters into his own hands. He advertised his art work on Facebook and began getting requests to draw portraits of people and animals.

Now, the Central High School senior no longer has to draw for money. The 18-year-old was one of 1,000 students across the country to be named a Gates Millennium Scholar -- a distinction that comes with a $250,000 scholarship.

The program, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, offers scholarships to outstanding, low-income minority students. It’s meant to give students the option to attend the college and pursue the degree of their choice.

Lofton plans to attend Brown University, where he likely will major in both art history and illustration.

“This means that my mom doesn’t really have to worry about any sort of financial problems as I go to college,” Lofton said. “That was really my main concern with college.”

Raised by a single mother of four children, Lofton initially considered attending college in Georgia because it would be less expensive. But the Gates Millennium scholarship made his dream of attending Brown University come true.

Lofton felt immediate relief when he opened his mailbox to find a large package from the scholarship foundation. He knew it must have been an acceptance package. It was his birthday.

“It just felt like magic somehow,” he said, “like I was having really good luck.”

But it wasn’t luck that snagged Lofton the scholarship. Besides his talent as an artist, Lofton established the National Art Honor Society at Central and is a member of the theater program, the mock trial team and the French Club. He attended the state Governor’s Honors Program, is a QuestBridge Scholar, a winner of the Young Arts Merit Award and is a finalist with the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

He recently was the 8th Congressional District winner of the Congressional Art Competition, and his artwork was displayed in the U.S. Capitol for a year.

Lofton has been drawing for as long as he can remember. His older sister always loved to draw, and Lofton supposes he picked up the hobby from her. When he was younger, Lofton enjoyed drawing cartoons, but his talent has morphed to include real-life images. Now, he wants to make a career out of his talent.

Lofton credited his art teacher, his school counselor and the school’s International Baccalaureate program coordinator for helping him succeed and snag the scholarship.

And he is quick to thank his mother, who has always supported him, he said.

When Lofton discovered he had won the scholarship, “it really was just a relief for us both.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 744-4331.

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