April 18, 2014–a month before high school graduation and a few months before beginning my college journey– was the day I was given the key to the lock on my dreams. But, it all started a little before that…
It all started in a small AP Literature class full of anxious seniors at South Mountain High School in South Phoenix, Arizona. We had laptops out from the laptop carts, as we did every Tuesday because Mr. Cano (my favorite teacher I’ve ever had in my academic journey) reserved those days for college applications, scholarships, and other components for our future, and one day he mentioned the Gates Scholarship. I had never even heard of it. And I didn’t realize it’s prominence and massive impact. But, I was applying to so many scholarships I gave it a shot. Two recommendations, nine essays, and an application later the wait began.
With 52,000 applicants, I had doubts but also high hopes I would get it. Then I found out I was a finalist, one of the 2,000 they narrowed it down to. It didn’t feel like a big deal because I still didn’t feel I would get the scholarship. I even thought about just ignoring the email because I was thinking, there’s no way I am getting the scholarship. Just because I am a finalist doesn’t mean I will become a scholar. Then suddenly as I stared at the email during my student assistant class as library assistant at South, the librarians phone screamed in excitement. It was my counselor, Ms. Spinner asking me to come to her office.
Those who do the recommendations are also emailed when you become a finalist, so she was excited and made sure to get the last steps in ASAP. She was eager to support in all the scholarships I got.
Everyone at school was so excited because no one at South Mountain had ever gotten that far with the scholarship before, and I was so nervous because I didn’t even have it yet. I was just a finalist. But to the school it was a big deal. My honors Anatomy teacher heard about it and had me announce it to the class. A lady that worked in the printing and copy room gave me a card and fifty dollars. And everyone smiled at me and gloated to others.
Then those who did the recommendations got another email when they found out I was one of the 1,000 out of the original 52,000 applicants chosen to be a 2014 Gates Millennium Scholar. I found out via an ominous envelope though.
The prominence and impact began to sink in and fill my heart and the rest of my body. This meant I would be getting a full ride academic scholarship, paid for by Bill and Melinda Gates. (A lot of the scholars now call him Papa Gates or Uncle Gates).
I remember the day I got the memo that I got the scholarship perfectly, because it was the day my life changed forever.
It was a Friday evening. I was at my sister’s house and we were heading to my nephew’s basketball game like every other Friday and weekend.
My mom had called me and told me an envelope came about the Gates Scholarship. My heart jumped and sank at the same time. It was the decision. I asked what size was the envelope because we all know large envelopes are good and small are bad.
It took me a few times to ask before she answered, then I asked again and she said it was a large envelope. I said, that means I got it! I could feel her excitement through the phone as my sisters and I stood at the front door about to leave for the game.
I told her to open it and find out. She opened it and began reading the letter to me. Then once she hit the word congratulations, her voice became louder and full of pride. She read the whole letter as they drove to the gym too.
Then as we met at the gym for the game, my parents came over with smiles and the big open envelope snug in their hands. I took the life changer into my hands and I pulled out each piece of paper inside and read it in my head, drowning out the rowdy basketball crowd. It was just me and my dreams becoming a reality.
School after that was even crazier. I took the envelope to school and showed my teachers and they were excited. My counselor also spread the news. They put my name up on the marquee, everyone still smiled and gloated, all the teachers I had were glad to have had me, the district honored all of 2014 scholars with a certificate and recognition at the board meeting, at senior assembly I got a standing ovation where the crowd chanted my name, and the Salutatorian even gave me a shout out in her speech. I was the first ever Gates Millennium Scholar at South Mountain High School, and the only thus far.
My life simply has not been the same since. I’m living out my dreams. Really. And sometimes I am surprised this is my real life because it’s almost too good to be true it’s so perfect. This scholarship has allowed me and paid for me to live in a city I’ve dreamed about being in since I was in middle school (which is also really expensive), it’s paid for my schooling that costs almost $53,000 a year without any loans or debt, it’s allowed me to travel and attend conferences around the country where I get to connect with other scholars and other amazing souls of the Earth, and it’s given me a prominent title I can always carry on my chest, and in my heart, like a name tag.
I can’t imagine my life without it, because it’s created this amazing life for me. And to think, I didn’t even think I had a chance and was going to ignore the finalist email because I didn’t think something so big, so amazing, could happen to me–a black girl from South Phoenix who loves reading and writing– but it did. And I am forever grateful.
Thank you, Papa Gates and Melinda Gates, for your philanthropy and your big selfless hearts!
Thanks for reading! When was a moment when your life changed, or how was your senior year of high school, or if you are a Gates Scholar I would love to hear your stories about getting it in the comments below! Happy Tuesday, and subscribe right below by simply entering your email then confirming in your inbox!