Students virtually surprised by GCU scholarship
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
The college dreams of 34 local high school students were not squelched by the COVID-19 crisis.
You could see it on the faces of the students and their parents on computer screens who were overcome with emotion when they were surprised to learn of a scholarship to Grand Canyon University via Zoom.
They thought they were being interviewed about their application for GCU’s Students Inspiring Students scholarship, answering questions about their greatest strengths and hopes, before the good news was dropped by current GCU students:
“We have one more thing to tell you. You are an SIS scholarship recipient.”
Yareli Orozco covered her face with her hands and began to sob. Her mother, a Mexican immigrant whose knowledge of English is limited, looked at her with confusion before it was translated in Spanish.
“I had to stop crying to tell her,” Orozco said. “Then she started crying.”
The 34 join another 16 who earlier this year were awarded SIS scholarships, an initiative by GCU that began five years ago in collaboration with Grand Canyon University Scholarship Foundation and local high schools and philanthropic leaders. It grants four-year, full-tuition scholarships to inner-city students who have at least a 3.5 grade point average, meet financial-need requirements and have received 100 hours of academic assistance in GCU’s Learning Lounge.
“In light of everything going on in the world, we realized we had to make it a virtual ceremony but still wanted students to feel special,” said SIS Program Manager Megan Serafini, whose prior surprise announcements were elaborate ruses in person.
“Everybody could use some happy news. What better news than a full-ride scholarship?”
Orozco had a brief moment when she thought it was a joke. Surely, she thought, it was too good to be true.
“My mom was the only one to finish high school and didn’t know anything about how to get into college,” she said. “It is really hard now with money, and I was always worried about how to pay for college. My parents didn’t know how to guide me; I had to do this myself.”
She had studied hard at Metro Tech High School in Phoenix and attended Learning Lounge sessions to reach the 100-hour threshold but had a backup plan just in case. She had to squeeze in her hours around going to a cosmetology program on Mondays with the idea that after high school she would work on hair and save until she had enough to attend college.
But one day at the Learning Lounge she was told about an SIS scholarship and rested new hope in an application.
“I feel I had more in me than just cosmetology. I didn’t want to work with hair my whole life. I want to go into forensic science and be a crime scene investigator,” she said.
Her mom, Margarita Torres, never doubted her, Orozco said.
“She is so positive, and I’ve always struggled to be positive,” she said.
Last week, her mother draped her arm around her daughter after hearing the good news and cried out, “Oh my God!”
“This moment made me so proud,” Orozco said. “Now that I’ve got this scholarship, what else can I do?”
The virtual moments went so well that current GCU students, who are SIS recipients and were enlisted to announce the scholarships online, said it was almost better than in person because they could see the reactions.
“I felt like I was bringing good news despite everything going on in the world,” said Iris Yanez Arambula, a GCU freshman SIS recipient who fulfills her scholarship’s duty to mentor others in the Learning Lounge. “Seeing them on camera made me happy. Some of the parents were crying just asking them questions, and then when we announced the scholarship, we were all crying.”
Many of the students wouldn’t be going to college without the scholarship, she said, so reactions such as Jacob Lee’s were special to her.
“He was trying to hold it in,” she said.
Lee, of Apollo High School, was told it was a “final interview,” and he just needed to answer a few more questions.
When he was told, he rubbed his eyes of tears and hugged his mom for a long time.
“It was a crazy moment. It took a burden off my shoulders and my mom doesn’t have to worry how to pay for college,” he said. “It’s an amazing opportunity.”
Lee said he worked hard to finish with a high grade point average. (The average grade point of recipients is 4.1.)
His mom, Susan Motley-Lee, saw his dedication and marveled at how he always “gives it all he’s got.”
She had attended college for two years but got pregnant and started to raise a family. Her first child died of sudden infant death syndrome. She never went back to school.
But as she raised her other three children — Jacob is her youngest — she had dreams for her them. Although both she and her husband work hard, they didn’t have extra money for college and earn just enough that they don’t qualify for college grants.
Her youngest son is a big, grown young man now and enveloped her with affection when he learned of the scholarship.
“He’s my baby boy who is not so little,” she said. “I want to see him complete college and find something he enjoys. We have so long to work, but I want him to find the right fit for what God’s plan is for his life.”
The students were filled with gratitude for the chance to come to GCU, which for many already felt like family from their hours in the Learning Lounge. A special virtual banquet to honor them and SIS graduates is in the works.
Leslie Magallanes, of Glenview College Prep, said there already has been a special moment she won’t forget, even if it was on a computer screen.
Her mom and dad and older sister did not go to college, but they have hopes for her.
“When they told me, I just looked at my mom in surprise and she didn’t know why. She speaks very little English,” Magallanes said. “She was really happy and started crying, too.”
“Muchas gracias,” said her mom, Mireya.
Magallanes hopes to study business and one day land a good job, which would mean she won’t worry so much about money.
“I know college is going to be really hard, but I will trust in God to guide me through college and give me a good start,” she said. “I’m just going to give it my all when I get there.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.