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August 21, 2014, 6:07 am

Graduate proof of what a village can do

When Kashif Olatunde Smith of West Oak Lane recently walked down the Princeton University aisle to receive his degree, he credited his family legacy to his success. 

Though he recognizes he was the one who excelled at his undergraduate courses that earned him a science degree, he is aware he did not do it alone. 

For Smith, who was primarily reared by an older single father, it truly took a village.

When Smith spoke to The Tribune on the heels of his June 5 commencement and being the third fastest 60 meter track star in Princeton’s history, he was quick to point out he has more than a computer science degree from an Ivy League institution. 

This summer, as he studies for his Medical College Admission Program (MCAP) examinations, he will be giving back.  This is all part of the social justice commitment he learned at home, in his early schooling, and in Northwest Philadelphia. 

“My coach Steven Boni at the William Penn Charter High School served as my mentor and sponsor,” Smith said. “I was fortunate to have had people along the way who would listen to me.  He advised me to stay focus but never get so ambitious that you [trample] over others.  His advice served me well.  I’d say Mr. Boni played an influential role in giving me the right advice.

“My father [Marvin Smith], my mother and other members of my family were also there for me even it was just telling me to remember why I was in school,” he added.  “I would tell anyone aspiring for higher education that nothing comes easy. It takes a lot of hard work and you have to (maintain) your focus.  Once you remember your goal then you have to keep going in the right direction taking one week, one month and one year at a time.”

Smith’s volunteer activities included tutoring at the Stenton Family Manor, participating in demonstrations for welfare rights and against police brutality, and volunteering for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. 

This summer he said that he will continue to be involved in grassroots voter registration as the new presidential race approaches as well as return to volunteering at local homeless facilities.

“Kashif served as president of the African American Student League at Penn Charter,” said Marvin Smith. “So, with his solid foundation in his cultural identity and all that he’s accomplished we have high hopes for him.”

Both father and son are quick to point out that charting the course for the younger Smith’s college and professional school was something that began when he was very young. 

Key points along that journey included attending the Afrocentric Lotus Academy for his foundation, earning a track scholarship to both William Penn Charter and Princeton, and the elder Smith making sure that his son maintained a strong GPA.

Kashif Smith stood out among those who applied for the Princeton scholarship because he had more to offer than just a strong academic record and athletic prowess.  He speaks, reads and writes in Spanish, studied classical piano, and has an extensive record of community service.

“It was at Lotus Academy that Kashif received the overall school community support that got him rooted in the love for his people and his African American culture,” Marvin Smith said.  “I would especially praise Mothura Marcia Butler, an extraordinary teacher at Lotus, the other teachers, staff and Lotus administration for being so amazing.  It was this foundation that enables us to have high hopes for him.”