College Scholars

In 1977, O’Neal celebrated having its first graduating class. Twenty years later, O’Neal was excited to claim its first Morehead Scholar. The Morehead Scholarship, and later changed to Morehead-Cain Scholarship in 2007, is the first merit scholarship established in the United States at the first public university in the United States – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Among the largest and most competitive scholarship programs in the United States, the Morehead-Cain pays all expenses for four years of undergraduate study, including the cost of a laptop computer and four summer enrichment experiences.

Helen Holmberg ’97 was O’Neal’s first Morehead Scholar. In fact, in commemoration of her accomplishment, her father, Bud Holmberg, then Chair of the Board of Trustees, established the Helen Pringle Holmberg Scholarship awarding 75% of tuition for four years at O’Neal’s Upper School.

After graduating UNC-Chapel Hill, Helen went on to earn her Doctor of Law at Wake Forest University School of Law and later her Master of Laws (LLM), Taxation from New York University School of Law. Helen Holmberg Herbert has been practicing law for 14 years and is presently a senior attorney at Tribute Companies in Charlotte.

Eleven years later, O’Neal was privileged to have consecutive Morehead-Cain Scholarship recipients – Jessica Gregory ’08 and Kitan Akinosho ‘09.  Jessica traveled from Rockingham to attend O’Neal. Jessica also followed the law track and continued at the UNC School of Law to receive her Doctor of Law, with honors. After practicing law in mergers and acquisitions for a few years, Jessica Gregory Love is presently an investment banker with a focus on mergers and acquisitions at BlackArch Partners in Charlotte.

Though awarded the prestigious scholarship, Kitan Akinosho chose a different route and opted to accept a full scholarship to Princeton University instead. Kitan lived in Sanford while attending O’Neal and was a Nuzzo scholar. After graduating from Princeton with a BSE in Operations Research and Financial Engineering, Kitan worked as a lead data scientist for the federal government for five years. She then became a part of the inaugural class of Carle Illinois College of Medicine, the world’s first engineering-based medical school and will be entering residency in the summer of 2022.

Many colleges and universities have used the Morehead-Cain scholarship as a model for their own prestigious merit scholarships.

William Schirmer ’16 is a Johnson Scholar from Washington and Lee University. Approximately 10% of the entering class receives the all-inclusive scholarship. In addition, scholars receive funding up to $7,000 for summer experiences, which include internships, volunteer experiences or research projects, during their time at Washington and Lee. Will was O’Neal’s valedictorian and graduated from Washington & Lee with a BS in mathematics and economics and is presently a senior research analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte offers the Levine Scholarship. The Levine Scholars Program enrolls 20 students each year. The all-inclusive scholarship also includes a grant to implement a service project of the Scholar’s own making, as well as four summer experiences to develop leadership skills, social awareness and an international perspective. Christopher Dymond ’17 from Sanford is a Levine Scholar and is finishing up his mechanical engineering degree. Chris has interned and participated in a cooperative education program as a product engineer as well as studied abroad in South Africa.

Niasha Kodzai ’20 is a Park Scholar with North Carolina State University. Approximately 40 scholarships are awarded each year. Following the same structure and offerings as the aforementioned scholarships, the Park Scholarship includes membership to a leadership academy, mentoring, a freshman seminar and more. Niasha was O’Neal’s salutatorian and is in her sophomore year at NCSU and is seeking her bachelor’s degree in industrial design with a minor in psychology with hopes of designing toys for children with psychological and developmental disabilities.

In and among these accomplished Falcons, O’Neal claims many semifinalists in contention for these and recipients of many other prestigious merit scholarship programs. All of them have uniquely found success in education and as well as in their careers. Depending on the class size, O’Neal graduates are collectively awarded between $1 & $3 million in merit-based college scholarships each year.

Falcons Fly to 50

O’Neal is excited to share its history with readers as it quickly nears its 50th year in educating and cultivating youth in becoming successful, effective contributors to communities large and small. The official celebration starts school year 2021/2022. This weekly blog will focus on different aspects of the School as it grew through the years. With every entry, there is just as much more information to gather than what is already written. Readers who have been a part of the O’Neal community are encouraged to reach out and share their O’Neal memories. It is with great hope that the efforts of many in contributing information and photography can be published into a book for reflection and reference as the School continues to prosper for the next 50 years.

Please send your memoirs and photos to:
The O’Neal School
c/o Kathy Taylor, Director of Communications
P.O. Box 290
Southern Pines, NC 28388

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