If the lunch that was served on Wednesday is any indication, the students at DC’s Hospitality High School are getting a good education. More than 120 elected officials, community leaders, supporters, teachers, and friends gathered to enjoy a meal of chilled avocado soup, grilled chicken with asparagus and well-dressed lettuces, and an eye-popping dessert of chocolate brownie, fudge sauce, walnuts, and cotton candy. If anyone doubted the origin of the food preparation, a screen over the stage broadcast a live feed from the downstairs kitchen, bustling with student chefs at work.
It’s taken 14 years and two previous locations for the high school to have its own building, at Ninth and T streets, Northwest, a four-story red-brick building that was originally home to the Grand United Order of the Odd Fellows in America, an African-American organization. “In 1932, at the height of the depression, the Odd Fellows built this building,” said Ward 1 council member Jim Graham. “It was built, every single brick, by black citizens and residents of the District of Columbia.”
The Hospitality High School acquired the building thanks to hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, Hilton Worldwide, and the Hotel Association of Washington. Present at the lunch was Richard Marriott, who noted that his family’s business started in Ward 1 with a root beer stand on Park Road. He said his father’s office was across the street from Roosevelt High School, where HHS was a tenant before the most recent, and presumably last, move. “We would look out of his window right onto the football field. I grew up as a little kid watching games on the Roosevelt High School football field.”
Marriott has been involved with this particular charter school from its beginning. “I look back at Eighth and D streets [HHS’s first location]. Roosevelt was a huge jump up, and this tops it,” he said. “We are thrilled to be here. It will prove great for our great young students.”
Marriott also spoke about the relationship of education to success in the job market, and said high school students in DC have “one of the highest dropout rates in the nation. Our 16- to 19-year-old teenagers in this city are 50 percent unemployed.” He said the Hospitality High School exists to help young people find jobs. “There are unlimited opportunities in the hospitality industry,” he said. Throughout the lunch, students came to the stage to tell their stories.
Danielle Duarte said, “Hospitality High prepared me for college and a career. I graduated from Norfolk State University with a degree in hospitality management and tourism. I am currently working at the Residence Inn Capital as a front-desk agent.”
Junior Michael Vanegas said, “Hospitality High School is preparing me for college and a better future.” He said after graduation he plans to attend Delaware State to study business.
Amin Skaikay, who moved to DC from his native Sierra Leone in 2004, said that because of HHS he was accepted to the Hilton Corporation’s management development program. “I completed an internship at Hilton’s Embassy Suites Convention Center Hotel in engineering, restaurant, housekeeping, front desk, and bell staff positions.”
Jada Robinson said she is excited to be a member of the first senior class in the new building. “My class, the class of 2014, will serve as role models. I am a proud member of our Cornell Group, which exposes us to Cornell and their real estate and hospitality management programs.” She said she hopes to attend Cornell and major in business management.
Robinson introduced Solomon Keene, who is president of the Hotel Association of Washington, which she said has invested more than $1 million since the school’s inception, as well as $100,000 toward the new school. Keene said that when HHS opened in 1998 the idea of having a dedicated building was only a dream. “This is a wonderful day for our students, our parents, our teachers, our executive team and every single stakeholder,” Keene said. “We will now have an opportunity to come to our very own school in this building that we can call our own.”
Graham and Ward 2 council member Jack Evans, who also spoke, slipped out after their remarks and so missed the official opening on stage. Richard Marriott was handed the gold scissors and given the honor of cutting the big red ribbon, prompting loud applause.