The motto of Grossmont College, "changing lives through education," was dramatically illustrated Saturday, Sept. 7, at a Scholarship Award Breakfast at which more than $45,000 was distributed to 75 students in awards ranging from $150 to $2,000. Some students won multiple scholarships.
As smiling student after student walked to the front of the Griffin Gate meeting hall to accept an award, those in the audience who knew the hardships that some of them had endured could not help but feel a wave of gratitude. Now, in large measure because someone had believed in them, the recipients are on their way to successful lives.
Selam Gebrekristos, the Scholarship Officer at Grossmont College, is herself no stranger to adversity, having fled with her parents and siblings from their home in Eritrea to a refugee camp in the Sudan, where she lived for several years before coming to live in the United States. "I've complained about things in my life and they were nothing compared to some of the things that these students went through at very young ages," she said.
The students had written of their lives in essays, which, for the sake of privacy, are quoted here without their authors' names. In Gebrekristos' estimate, the essays are testaments to the resiliency of the human spirit and to how important it is for people to have relatives, educators, and other mentors in their lives who believe in their potential.
One young woman related that she had been kidnapped by her mother when she was 2 1/2, then kidnapped back by her father. "I felt like a commodity rather than a human being," she wrote. Repeating the pattern of her mother, the student became pregnant and addicted to drugs. However, she wrote, "I entered a program, have become clean and sober ever since" and "have enrolled in college and have been attending school for the last year and a half." More adversity including an eviction from her apartment and the death of her mentor grandmother didn't deter her. "I fought back with determination to succeed instead of trying to escape," she wrote. "During this period I earned a 3.7 GPA and completed all courses."
A young man who said he had despised education wrote of changing his attitude after an elderly clarinetist, who had performed overseas, suggested that he join his band, despite the young man having no previous experience. "I accepted his offer and played the euphonium for his band. From the start, I loved it." As his ability to perform music improved, so too did his academic achievement. When an uncle who had encouraged him was found murdered, "at that moment I dedicated my future to learning my art." He became a leader in his high school band, captain of his swim team, coached at a city swimming pool, and played in the local symphony. At Grossmont College, he is now a music major.
A young woman who was working in a store was suddenly faced by an armed robber, who put a knife to her throat, demanded money, and threatened to rape her. "All of a sudden a miracle happened. He had a sudden change of heart and decided to let me go. After this horrid experience, I found myself in a state of shock for quite some time. I was suffering from post-traumatic stress and could not bring myself to return to work. I went from being a confident woman, who thought I was invincible, to a person scared to leave the house." A psychologist encouraged her to work as a volunteer with zoo animals, which led to her becoming certified as a volunteer animal interpreter and helped to build back her confidence. Eventually she decided to go to Grossmont College, where "I strive to achieve the best grades possible."
Another young man was in and out of foster homes, juvenile hall, and even jail for felony vandalism. He wrote that he has been trying to turn his life around since, completing high school, enrolling in college, completing 25 days of community service and five years of probation with favorable reports. Now, "I am committed to be not only a product of transformation, but also a role model," he said.
Because community colleges are such a great educational value at $46 per unit, an award of $500 can go a long way toward funding a full semester, and $1,000 can cover a year of tuition/ fees and educational supplies, Grossmont College President Sunita V. Cooke commented to the award recipients, their families and donors.
Gebrekristos told an interviewer the scholarships provide students with an important emotional stimulus. "They are about being believed in and being selected out of the thousands and thousands of students here," Gebrekristos said. "It is not free money; they work for it. They have to write these essays. They have to do research. They have to get letters of recommendation. It's not easy and that is why a lot of students don't apply. So when they are selected for a scholarship, it is a real honor."
Grossmont College faculty members have been very important in the scholarship award process, Gebrekristos said.. They often tell her about hard-working students in their classes who could really benefit from scholarships.
In their essays, many students wrote about wanting to be like the mentors who have positively influenced their lives. In addition to admired relatives, these often included teachers, coaches, volunteers, and other agents of positive change in society.
More information about the Scholarship Program at Grossmont College, including some scholarships that still remain available and others for which applications open Sept. 30, may be obtained by contacting Gebrekristos at (619) 644-7121, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fall 2013 Scholarship Awards recipients included:
Heather Airy, Celeste Allen, Kirsten Andrews, Zack Armstrong, Krystelle Ashbaugh, Michelle Bales, Coloni Brown, Therese Camoras, Janet Carter, Alexandra Cisneros, Benjamin Deharo, Stephanie Diaz-Gonzales, Emiliana Emery, Tamarah Fadhil, Julie Flanery, Masaleen Frank, Dashika Gallon, Yennis Gangora, Stephanie Garetson, Marissa Gonzalez, Chase Granito, Tahmina Habibzada, Yeabsra Habtegebriel, Diana Heinsbergen and Simone Henderson.
Enrique Herrera-Ponce, Janeane Horan, Joseph Horvitz, Gladys Ignacio, Thirada Kingphuang, Makiko Kishimoto, Isagani Lagundino, De'Shaun Liddell-Patacsile, Jiawen Liu, Billie Lockett, Tamika Lovelace, Rosalinda Lopez, Lorena Marquez, Dianne Martinez, Sandy Matti, Tamara McMillan, Sandra Mekhaail, Aaron Menjuga, Teri Moody, Minerva Munoz, Sean Murray, Thi Nguyen, Ashely O'Neil, Jennifer Onderdonk, and Cleatus Peake
Phuc Pham, Brittany Pharis, Lakeisha Powell, Jessica Pruitt, Daniel Ramos, Jesus Rangel, Nisreen Rofaeel, Brandon Barnes Rose, Christina Rubalcava, Andrew Schauf-Anderson, Courtney Scheck, Parastu Sharifi, Shehnaz Sial, Carlyn Stech, Katherine Stetler, John Stewardson, Linnea Tatupu, Jeah Telebrico, Haile Tesfalidet, Anastacia Tucker, Panteli Vourakis, Kirstyn Wagner, Christina Wortman, Walnet Youhanan and Diana Youhanna.