Face of the Week: Tinbit Berhanu of Pikesville High School
Team BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. “Face of the Week” introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.

Face of the Week: Tinbit Berhanu of Pikesville High School

When the bell rang at the end of her first period science class on her very first day at Pikesville Middle School, Tinbit Berhanu didn’t move a muscle. Around her, first period students shuffled out while second period students streamed in.

Tinbit sat in her seat and did not move. At her old school in Addis Ababa, students never had to change rooms between classes.

Later in the day, Tinbit found herself standing before a bank of lockers in an empty school hallway, crying softly to herself because she didn’t know what a locker was or how one worked. 

At her old school, there were no lockers.

But as she struggled that first day to acclimate herself to life in an American middle school, Tinbit, now a 17-year-old senior at Pikesville High School,  knew she possessed resources that few her age had, including a highly developed sense of perspective. “I thought to myself, ‘It’s bad now, but it will get better,’” she says. “And I took education really seriously. I didn’t know much about where I was, but studying was the one thing I knew how to do. It was the one thing that didn’t change. And so I got to work and I studied.”

That was typical Tinbit. As a 10-year-old in a nation where few spoke English, she had taught herself the language from a dictionary she received as a gift. She was so fluent that when she came to Baltimore County, she tested out of the school system’s programs for those with limited English proficiency.  

There was also her family and their belief in education. Tinbit says she comes from a well-educated family in Ethiopia – one uncle is a college professor and another a cardiac surgeon. Before they emigrated to the United States, her father, Getaneh, and her mother, Meskerem, were successful accountants. Neither has been able to find such employment here yet – both work as parking attendants – but Tinbit says they continue to preach the importance of learning and working hard to her and her younger brother and sister.  

Nearly four years later, the hard work and family support has paid off for Tinbit. She is just one of 39 high school students from across the nation to win a prestigious 2016 Alexander Hamilton Scholarship. As a “Hammie,” as the scholars call themselves, Tinbit will participate in conference calls and service projects for the next five years, receiving coaching support throughout the school year, and attend a weeklong leadership institute. She will be eligible to apply for paid internships at the New York Historical Society, Morgan Stanley, and the Hamilton Scholars’ headquarters in Seattle.

Designed to “close the opportunity gap” among promising students from low-income families, the scholarship has helped 100 percent of its scholars be accepted into academically selective colleges, a group that has included seven Gates Millennium Scholars, 15 Coca-Cola Scholars, and 24 QuestBridge finalists.

“They emphasized how much of a family they are as an organization,” Tinbit says of the Hamilton Scholarship. “That’s what I liked about it. They focus on you as an individual and that wasn’t something I found in other groups.”

Tinbit is also intrigued by the opportunity to participate in a variety of service projects as a Hammie, including one upcoming in Guatemala. She is team leader for a project that will address homelessness in Baltimore in the spring; “we’re just brainstorming things right now,” she says of the group’s progress.

“(Her) academic strength continues to grow,” says Jeremy Goldman, Pikesville High’s school counselor who alerted Tinbit to the Hamilton application. “Aside from learning a completely different culture than where she spent her formative years, she has stepped up her scholastic performance with each passing year. . . . Now that she is in the stage of looking for post-secondary opportunities, she tackles each new application I present to her, and she grows more excited about the future. I am proud of her in every possible way. . . .”

But the emphasis on outreach also speaks to Tinbit’s interest in the human condition. She says an 11-day stay in the hospital with a diagnosis of diabetes when she was 10 convinced her to devote part of her life to helping the less fortunate. “I saw a lot of people who needed help in the hospital,” she says. She hopes to study psychiatry one day at either the University of Maryland College Park or the University of Maryland Baltimore County.    

Today, Tinbit plows through her senior year, taking three AP courses and staying busy with National Honors Society, Pikesville’s cross country team, Mock Trial team, Medical Club, Students of Success Club, and the literary magazine, where she has been co-editor for the past two years.  

Perhaps when she has a moment, she says, she may want to reflect a bit on all that has happened to bring her to this moment, when her leadership abilities and her work ethic and her love of learning have come together to open up a world of possibility for her. “I’m still learning about everything, says the girl whose Ethiopian name is perhaps the most fitting aspect of her journey so far.

Tinbit, she says, means “prophecy.”

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