Anna Laura Davenport, a Hardaway High School senior working three part-time jobs while dually enrolled at Columbus State University, is the seventh annual recipient of the James Henry Smith and Gladys Manning Smith Scholarship, awarded by the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley.
Betsy Covington, the foundation's executive director, usually surprises the winner by announcing the good news at school. Wednesday, however, she led a ruse that celebrates the work ethic of the recipient and the scholarship's namesakes.
Along with being a receptionist in CSU's Continuing Education Department and a private math tutor, Anna Laura, 18, is a cashier at the Publix on Macon Road. Store manager Jim Evans colluded with Covington to ensure Anna Laura was working while foundation board members and selection committee members gathered at the appointed time. They tried not to seem suspicious as they hovered within sight of Anna Laura at register No. 9.
Covington put a few items in her reusable shopping bag, such as arugula and almonds, and got in Anna Laura's line. As she waited, Covington whispered, "This will either go really well or not, but I'm sure not Meryl Streep."
When it finally was Covington's turn, Anna Laura recognized her as one of the folks who conducted the scholarship interview, and Covington played her part like a pro as she exclaimed, "It's you!"
"Yes, it is me," Anna Laura replied with a smile.
"I told you I shopped here," Covington continued.
"Yes, it's good to see you," Anna Laura said.
They continued their small talk as Anna Laura scanned Covington's items.
"You usually see me with a big, blue plastic bag, but today I'm running, so it's a small bag. You doing OK?"
"Everybody enjoyed getting the chance to meet you the other day."
"I enjoyed the interview."
"I think you're going to do great things," Covington concluded. " Oh, and I have a coupon."
Covington handed her a piece of paper -- which informed Anna Laura she won the scholarship.
Her eyes widened as she read it, and the assembled supporters and Publix employees who were in on the ruse applauded and cheered.
Anna Laura was speechless. She reached across the conveyor belt and hugged Covington. A coworker stepped in to finish the checkout so Anna Laura could thank her guests and pose for photos.
Anna Laura was "shocked" and grateful.
"It's a fantastic opportunity," she said.
Through the scholarship, Anna Laura will receive as much as $7,200 annually to help pay for four years of college, as long as she maintains a grade-point average of at least 2.0. That shouldn't be a problem, considering she has a 4.25 GPA and was named Hardaway's STAR student for having the highest SAT score in her graduating class.
Among her other achievements and activities, she founded and continues to volunteer with the Blackmon Math Team Camp and is a member of the National Honor Society, the National Science Honor Society and the National English Honor Society. She had to drop many of her activities, such as playing the viola in the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus, because of her class and work schedules.
To pursue dual-enrollment courses, Anna Laura left Columbus High, where she participated in the debate program, student council, Literary Meet and National History Day.
Anna Laura has been working about 30 hours per week as she tries to save enough money for college. She plans to attend Georgia Tech, major in applied mathematics and become an actuary.
Covington said Anna Laura "perfectly meets the criteria established by the Smiths: academic achievement, financial need and, most significantly, outstanding character."
The scholarship comes through an estate gift from James Henry Smith and Gladys Manning Smith. Their endowed fund has supported the selection of a new Smith Scholar each year since 2008.
Henry was a firefighter. Gladys was a mill worker. Neither could afford college, but frugal living and wise investing -- especially in Aflac stock - enabled them to save more than $1 million. Part of that sum funds this scholarship, boosting Columbus youth to obtain the college education the Smiths could not.
"We think they would definitely approve of Anna Laura," Covington said.
"Not everybody has the opportunity to go ahead and pursue a higher education," Anna Laura said. "It's wonderful of them to set up this scholarship for other people to go on and go to college."
Evans, the Publix store manager, gushed about his acclaimed cashier.
"She just embodies integrity, character and hard work -- I mean all the things that made America great," he said. "Just the way she comes to work and carries herself, there's no stop. When it looks like there's nothing to do, she finds something to do. She takes care of customers from start to finish. If all of our associates were like her, us manager-types would have nothing to do."
Anna Laura explained why such a work ethic is important to her.
"I think it's the value of learning how much the dollar is worth, what type of effort people have to put in to earn their money," she said. "I think it has really helped build my character. At Public, I've gotten to know a lot of great people, and I have some fantastic coworkers, as you can see."
Anna Laura is the seventh Smith Scholar. Her predecessors are:
2008: Turkeisha Fogle of the Teenage Parenting Center graduated from CSU.
2009: Laketa Lewis of Kendrick High School graduated from Savannah State University.
2010: Brandy Pierce of Brookstone School is scheduled to graduate next month from Valdosta State University.
2011: BreAuna Delpesche of Columbus High attends CSU.
2012: Sam Shields of Columbus High attends Presbyterian College.
2013: Sam James of Northside High School attends the University of Georgia.
"What an honor it is to see lives changed as a result of the Smiths' generosity," Covington said. "Truly, their gift will continue giving back to families in our community forever."
To learn more about the scholarship, call the foundation at 706-320-0027 or see www.cfcv.com.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.