Senior Spotlight: Dekwan Lawless
Dekwan Lawless is going to Paris this fall to study the business side of fashion – and he's received nearly a full ride from the school.
Dekwan still can’t believe it. His friends can’t either.
“Are you really going to Paris?” they’ll ask.
Dekwan will say yes. If they ask, he’ll tell them how he got there. If they ask for more, he’ll mention why, and when they do, he’ll talk about the Middle College at N.C. A&T.
“If I didn’t go to the Middle College, I wouldn’t be going to Paris,” says Dekwan, who graduated this month. “At the Middle College, I succeeded way more than I thought I would. The classroom setting was a big help. There were no distractions – 10 people in a class, and that includes the teacher.
“It’s not hard to learn, and the teachers are amazing,” he says. “They help you at any time, even when you’re at home. And we were all in competition with each other.”
“It was our whole class, the juniors, too,” Dekwan responds. “That is what made me kick in. There was a big competition on who got the best grades and who was getting the most scholarships. I loved that competition.”
And that wasn’t bad?
“No,” Dekwan says. “We all wanted to see everybody succeed and not fail. If you needed help, we would help you succeed. And now, we’re all young men who succeeded in life, and we’re going to colleges all around the United States and around the world, too.”
Dekwan graduated sixth in his senior class of 33. In September, he’ll leave for Paris and start his four years at Parson Paris, the European branch of New York City’s Parson School of Design at The New School.
In Paris, he’ll study strategic design and management. He’ll dive into what he has come to love.
He was an eighth-grader at Guilford Middle, now Western Guilford Middle, when he got interested in fashion. He was influenced by his uncle and first cousins.
When they talked about design, Dekwan listened. He then started to explore.
He learned about designers like Raf Simons from Belgium, Rick Owens from California and Jean Paul Gaultier from France. He looked into the fashion side of the hip-hop artists he listened to like A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti and Kanye West.
Then he came to the Middle College. It was his mom’s idea. Dekwan didn’t want to go.
“I didn’t want to go at all,” he says. “I used to fight her about it, saying, ‘Please, don’t make me go to that school!’ It was because of the uniforms, all my friends at Guilford Middle were going to Western, and I would be going to school across town with people I didn’t know.
“And it would be at a school with all boys. I hated it.”
But his mom, Dina Lawless, didn’t budge. She was a single mom, the forever optimist, and she believed the discipline of the Middle College would help him find his future.
Dekwan wasn’t so sure.
He was relatively new to North Carolina. He was a sixth grader when he and his mom moved down from Brooklyn to Greensboro.
Dekwan’s maternal grandmother moved to North Carolina after she retired from working in New York City, and Dekwan’s mom wanted to be close to her and the rest of her family.
So, when Dekwan moaned about going to the Middle College, his mom just looked it at him, shook her head and said, “You’re not going to make it any better for yourself.”
So, Dekwan went.
At the Middle College, he wore Aggie attire – a jacket and tie - on Wednesday, and a collar shirt on Mondays, Tuesday and Thursday. Meanwhile, he endured this military-like discipline that had him going into the hallway because of some infraction and doing pushups or “wall sits.”
That is, leaning against the wall, squatting like you’re sitting in a chair and holding the pose.
An infraction could be not doing homework. But an infraction could also be getting in a fight, and there were times when Dekwan and his classmates were disciplined together because of the actions of one.
“It was like breaking everybody down and building everybody back up together,” Dekwan says. “Then, by your senior year, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, these are my brothers for life, no matter where they are.’”
By his sophomore year, Dekwan started thinking about college and what he wanted to do. He thought about fashion, and he started looking into schools. During that time, he went to a Middle College meeting about a study abroad program.
That meeting changed his life.
He heard about this program sponsored by the non-profit organization Council on International Educational Exchange. The organization was offering students the chance to study abroad in Italy for five weeks.
None of Dekwan’s classmates took it seriously. Neither did Dekwan.
“I showed it to my mom like it was a joke,” he says. “I remember telling her, ‘You pay this amount, and you can go to Italy,’ and I wasn’t expecting my mom to take it seriously. But she said, ‘Oh, this is cool. You should do this.’
“I told her, ‘Are you crazy?’ And she looked at me and said, ‘No, this is smart.’”
Dekwan looked into it, he raised the money to go, and the summer of his sophomore year, Dekwan joined 30 other students from around the world and turned Italy into one giant classroom.
“I was around beautiful architecture and kids my age from around the world, and it was like ‘Wow, I can see where their mindset is,’” he says. “We were all together in Italy, and we didn’t know each other from a hole in the wall, and I kept thinking, ‘This is pretty cool.’”
That trip expanded Dekwan’s idea of college. He applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, and he got in. Then, on a whim, he applied to Parson Paris in September.
He found it through his college research, and he figured it could be something he would brag about to his friends and say, “Yeah, I got in this school in Paris.”
But in December, when he found he did get in – and they were going to give him scholarship money to go – his mind changed.
Over four years, Parson Paris was going to offer him $132,000 in scholarships. He knew he would have to find an extra $10,000 a year to fully fund his college’s entire tuition. But that amount did faze Dekwan.
“When I get there,” he told himself, “I’m going to get more.”
So, the teenager who stocks shelves and pushes carts at the Walmart across from Guilford College is going to Paris.
With the help of the Middle College at A&T.
“The Middle College made me see school for what it wasn’t,” he says. “Everyone makes out school to be so hard. But they (the Middle College) made it easy just by helping kids understand that if you’re smart enough to listen, they’ll help you.”