Milwaukee Public School Student Gets Full Ride


Photo by Jordan Johnson

Lioneal Clay will attend Marquette in the fall on a full scholarship.

Milwaukee Public School senior Lioneal Clay set his heart on attending college four years ago, during his freshman year at Vincent High School.

He knew he could do it, but it wouldn’t be easy.

It had been a rough year for Clay. One of his best friends entered a coma and he was on the rocks with his then-girlfriend.

On Oct. 15, Clay sent in his application to Marquette hoping to see light at the end of the tunnel. A few weeks later he got just that.

He got “the” big blue and gold packet in the mail. Holding the letter, he saw the world start to fall back into place as he chose Marquette over University of Wisconsin-Madison, like a true Golden Eagle.

Like many students, the cost to attend college for Clay was causing him to stress. If he wanted to attend Marquette with what he says has beautiful architecture and art strewn, he’d have to put his mind to it.

To turn a dream into reality, he conjured up two more essays and sent them to Marquette’s Educational Opportunity Program. EOP is a federally-funded program that provides scholarships and support services to low-income and first-generation students. Then, the scholarships poured in. An EOP scholarship will cover 85 percent of his tuition. His Pere Marquette scholarship will take care of the rest.

Despite tuition security, Clay still worries about money.

“I’m scared of money,” Clay says. “I’m scared of losing my scholarship and being in debt.”

And, to make the deal even sweeter, Clay was admitted to the university’s honor college.

“I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know what was going on,” Clay says.

But he’s definitely adding “honors student” to his resume.

He doesn’t let fear of an intense course load overwhelm him, though. Between cracking jokes with his AP U.S. Government teacher, who teases him for the bald spot on the back of his head, and helping the 12th grade administrator Heidi Zealley as an officer in the counseling center, Clay’s daily aim is to put a smile on someone’s face.

“He’s gonna make a lot of friends. Lioneal’s just friendly. You’ll never see him down,” Deanna Green, Clay’s cousin and a junior at Vincent High School, says. 

It’s something that Clay plans to carry over to college life, whether it be in his physics classes he’ll take for his major or the hallways of Straz Tower, where he hopes to live with the roommate who randomly messaged him on Facebook one day.

But Clay is more than a smiling face. He shoots for the stars— he has aspirations to work for NASA. While Clay recognizes that it will be a big undertaking, Zealley is positive his hard work will take him far, and he’ll do well in the four years leading up to graduation.

“He attends classes faithfully and has a good work ethic,” Zealley says. She also says MPS doesn’t see many seniors get a full ride to Marquette. In fact, it’s practically unheard of. 

At just 10 years old, Clay was a science nerd and declared he wanted to jump head first into the field. Nothing’s changed; he’s making that jump.

“It picked me,” Clay says. “When I was a child I always watched the science network channel. I was just a nerd for science.”

He stuck to his guns, and when he saw the research labs and technology gadgets he’ll utilize during his university tenure, he geeked out.

He is even looking into joining a physics club and starting scientific research as soon as his feet hit Wisconsin Ave. Clay’s not planning on studying 24/7 though, as he’s entertaining the idea of rushing a multicultural fraternity to strike a balance. He’s achieved that balance in high school as well, taking on leadership and service roles with programs like College Possible, fundraising for his school and working with Special Olympics programs.

He advocates for underclassmen to get involved in College Possible. It’s a program that provides ACT prep and guidance during application processes. It propelled Clay to college.

Even though there are not too many MPS students roaming through the Alumni Memorial Union, Clay will likely fit in just as well as other students. He’s excited about the same things as most of his peers, with venturing out on his own at the top of his list.

“What is most exciting to me, I would say, is actually getting out of my house,” Clay says. “I’ve never lived outside of my home, so I’ve been waiting my entire life to get away from my parents. I was so excited about picking a roommate and everything.”

He’s nervous about living with someone since he’s never shared a bedroom before, but he’s still looking forward to bunking with a potential new friend.

He’s almost as stoked about that as he is about the dining halls.

“(I’m) especially (excited for) the food, right under my house,” Clay says. “I don’t have to go anywhere. I can wake up at 5 in the morning and grab some food.”

Clay may be venturing to 24/7 dining halls at odd hours to grab food, but what grabbed him, is Joan of Arc. The little slice of France earned his attention.

“I don’t abide by all of the rules in religion, but … I’m a very strong spiritual person,” Clay says. “The energy in the church actually drew me, because I could feel how old it was.”