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Story by:    Rob Kinch

Photo by:   Joseph Mudrak


     From 2001 to 2012, Rahway High School’s Main Office wing was regarded each year with pride by teachers, students, staff, and administrators as its walls continually filled with the photos of those students carrying the distinction of being named ‘Vagelos Scholars’.  This year, a formal portrait of Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and his wife Diana will take its rightful place of honor in the ‘Vagelos Hall of Fame’ among the many students whom Mr. Ibrahima A. Sharif, retired Merck employee and catalyst for introducing this initiative to Merck and Company, refers to as “some of the best and brightest students at Rahway High School.”

     Former Superintendent of Rahway Public School District Mr. Edward Yergalonis affirms, “A defining moment occurred in 2001 when Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, an alumnus of RHS and former CEO of Merck and Co., became actively involved in changing student expectations and created a scholarship to help facilitate Rahway High School students to attend the top 25 universities in the nation.  Simultaneously, the Merck Institute of Science Education (MISE) partnered with the Rahway Public Schools helping us change the way Science was taught by helping us develop teacher leaders throughout the district.”

     The litany of top universities attended by former ‘Vagelos Scholars’ include Harvard, Notre Dame, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, and Georgetown.  Scholars from the classes of 2003, 2004, and 2005 include, respectively, Dr. Sophia Kahn and Dr. Leonard Edokpolo, Dr. Sayuri Jinadas, along with Dr. Rosa Mendoza and Dr. Rebecca Rothstein.  As Dr. Vagelos cites, “My career was capped when I became Chairman and CEO of Merck.”  Although he quickly adds, “But my involvement at Rahway High School gave me and my family a special joy since we watched the products of the program start to make special contributions to society.”

     In 2016, Dr. Vagelos and his wife Diana were the benefactors of a $1.75 million gift that would allow 15 Rahway students per year to participate in the ‘Rutgers Future Scholars’ program, which initially served the four host communities of New Brunswick, Newark, Camden, and Piscataway.  Funded primarily through private and corporate contributions, the ‘Future Scholars’ program provides students, beginning in the seventh grade and through high school, with mentoring, tutoring, and college prep courses, including summer sessions that are a required part of the program.  In turn, should a student apply and be accepted to the university, Rutgers will cover the cost of his or her tuition.  This year Rahway District has over 60 Rutgers Future Scholars in grades 8-12 and is in the process of selecting the 15 7th graders.  For some Rahway students, this program can make the critical difference between advancing an academic career or suffering a lost opportunity for financial reasons.  At the time of his and his wife’s gift, Dr. Vagelos commented, “I had wonderful teachers at Rahway High School who helped me to reach the top by working harder.  I believe this program will challenge RHS students to go for it – entry into a great university.  I like being challenged and they will too.”

     Dr. Cary Fields, now in her first year as Rahway High School’s new Principal, is pleased to have it marked with this most kind gift.  “We are proud to honor Dr. and Mrs. Vagelos by adding their portrait to our hallway.  They have done so much for our students, dedicating a hallway in their honor is the least we can do to memorialize their contributions.  I hope our students are inspired as they walk through the Vagelos Wing.”  Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia Camp is also appreciative for the broader positive effects of the Vagelos family’s benefaction.  “The amazingly generous gift from Dr. P. Roy and Diana Vagelos has not only helped our 60+ RFS Rahway students, it has also sparked motivation in other RHS students to aim higher in their collegiate expectations.  Too many of our children feel they either do not have the academic ‘chops’ nor the finances for universities the caliber of Rutgers; the Vagelos’ have helped to disprove that notion.”  Dr. Camp quickly adds that she is “very proud” of the collaboration between RHS staff and Rutgers RFS, noting that, “We have teachers that work in the RFS program and bring those supports back to the high school for all of our students.”


Vagelos Portrait

         Ultimately, as all pass through the Vagelos ‘Hall of Fame’ at Rahway High School, it is clear that, hanging beside a very formal portrait of two caring benefactors, hang the accompanying images of hopes, dreams, and goals pursued and fulfilled.