Every year at this time the Rotary Club of El Paso Foundation awards a $5,000 scholarship to a senior at each EPISD high school.

The awards are part of the Dorothy Quinn Estate scholarship program, created by the late Austin High math teacher who bequeathed her fortune to the foundation for that purpose.

This year the foundation had 135 applications that were winnowed to the top three from each of the district’s 10 high schools.

As the current president of the foundation, I figured I had better show some interest; so, I volunteered to be one of several people to review and evaluate each school’s top three applicants.

I must say I am glad I did. Reading the applications leaves you both humbled and blown away.

All of the kids were tops in their class and often with better than 4.0 averages; all had been admitted to at least one college, most had multiple examples of community service and all were ambitious and laser focused on what they wanted to do with their lives.

But what some of these kids had to go through just to attend school, let alone get top grades, the adversity some had to overcome and their determination to succeed no matter what, truly is remarkable.

And, of course, sheltering in place from COVID-19 didn’t make things any easier for the underprivileged applicants, who may not have had a computer, scanner or decent internet access at home.

Somehow they got it done, handwriting essays and providing supporting documents copied and sent from cellphones.

In the Quinn scholarship application there is a special section on “unusual circumstances” and we certainly heard some touching examples. Here’s a sampler:

Many of these kids come from single parent households. Sometimes with brothers and sisters and all dependent on the single parent’s low-wage, low-skilled job. Sometimes the scholarship applicant mentioned helping the family out financially;

Or the student who lived out of a car with his mom after what sounded like a rough and maybe violent breakup with his dad – how he had to comfort and keep her safe while trying to keep up his studies;

Or the student who described succeeding and getting admitted to college despite his struggle with autism;

Or the young woman who came from Juárez not knowing any English only to work her way near the top of her class;

Or the kids who will become the first in their family to attend college.

I think you get the idea.

As you might expect, kids coming from households with college educated parents were well represented too and certainly they scored well with grades and essays.

But some of these applications left me with the feeling that the students who submitted them were going to make it with or without the scholarship, while the award might be critical for others.

My one regret after doing this: That we cannot award a scholarship to every one of the top three applicants, all of whom have worked so hard to get where they are.


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