Scholarships are like gold to Washington students
Story by Jeannette Cruz
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
When he first heard about the new Students Inspiring Students initiative, Jeff Parsons thought it sounded too good to be true.
“Full-tuition scholarships? These kinds of things don’t just happen without a ‘but,’” Washington High School’s assistant principal said.
That’s why he still was in disbelief Thursday when he learned that 14 of his students were the recipients of full-tuition scholarships to Grand Canyon University as part of Students Inspiring Students, a collaboration of GCU, the GCU Scholarship Foundation, schools and business and philanthropic leaders.
“When we talk about keeping your word — GCU does that,” Parsons said. “This is truly what’s going to transform their lives because they can actually see that their hard work has paid off.”
Under the terms of the scholarship, while in high school the students receive academic assistance at GCU’s Learning Lounge, a free after-school tutoring program designed to improve academic skills and confidence. They then pay it forward by providing 100 hours per year of mentoring and academic support at a Learning Lounge site while at the University.
Quyen Phan, who was born in Vietnam and arrived in the United States when he was 6, said holding the scholarship award letter in his hands was a testimony that “hard work eventually pays off” — the motto that kept him going for as long as he could remember.
“This here — it’s like finding gold,” he said. “When I first arrived to America in 2006, I was bullied all of the time and I struggled with homework. I was 8 when I learned my ABCs in English, and it wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I felt my English was good enough to hold a conversation.”
And yet, despite his fears, Phan took on college English courses during his time at Washington while handling household responsibilities his non-English-speaking parents could not do on their own.
“I’ve had to learn as I go,” he said. “We’ve gone from living in the garage of a four-bedroom house with 20 people to having our own house and our own car. Now, I can go live my dream in pre-medicine and travel all over the world and be a helping hand.”
But, most important, Phan said he wants to return to Vietnam.
Sergio Bahena and Pahoran Fornes quietly celebrated their accomplishment by whispering to each other. But when asked what the letter they were holding was, both immediately gleamed.
“It’s my opportunity to become a Lope,” Bahena said. “I’m still in shock.”
Bahena said he can’t wait to jump into the criminal justice program at GCU, fulfilling a dream he has had since middle school, and serve as a role model in his community.
Fornes said it meant there was hope for his family. Fornes has been in the U.S. since he was a week old, living with an aunt and uncle while his mother and stepfather reside in Mexico. Without a work permit, Fornes has been unable to obtain a job, but with a full-tuition scholarship to GCU he plans on becoming an engineer to eventually help his mother.
“Of course I miss them every day, but I’ve learned to deal with it so that someday I can provide for my mom just like she has for me,” he said.
For many of these inner-city students, these life-changing opportunities are not only for them, but for their families.
“One thing they share in common is the message that through hard work anything can be accomplished,” said Arlin Guadian, program manager of K-12 outreach. “It’s a very special moment for everybody.”
Washington High School, near Glendale and 23rd avenues, has had to find different ways of making sure that all of its students receive a quality education, Parsons said.
“It makes everything that we do here worthwhile because now all these students have to do is study and do their work like they’ve done here for four years and they walk away with a degree,” he said. “I hope that they can lead by example to the rest of the students here — we always tell them that their four years here is not the end, it’s a start.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.