Scholarship winners, families react as dream unfolds

April 20, 2022 / by / 0 Comment

Monique Hayes of Phoenix reacts to her son Levi’s Students Inspiring Students scholarship during the surprise announcement Tuesday.

Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso

GCU News Bureau

This is how futures change on a Tuesday night on the Grand Canyon University’s campus.

High school student Gilberto Alvarez Jr. pushes a wheelchair carrying aunt Martha Castillo into a classroom, where many others are assembled. He is told to open a folded piece of paper to win a prize before anticipated questions on how to earn a scholarship.

Gabriela Barba (right) reacts with her mother, Analisa, when they learn of her scholarship.

He flips the paper open and, to his surprise, there is no award of a key chain or T-shirt.

Only the big, big word:


Alvarez has won a Students Inspiring Students full-tuition scholarship, which goes to exceptional students from the neighborhoods surrounding GCU who need financial support.

He pushes his aunt to the front of the room to take a photo. He says he lives with her, and she is really proud of him. His mom moved with his younger siblings to Utah for a job. He stayed behind to tend to his aunt, who has been disabled all her life.

He is her caretaker.

“It’s big for us, really big for us,” he said.

She smiles at him. He is the first in his family to go to college, like the majority of SIS recipients. He wants to go into justice studies.

Odalis Rivas Reyes (right) hugs longtime friend Ana Arellano after they discovered they both were SIS scholarship recipients.

This is what happens on a magical April evening at GCU when 22 more recipients join the 78 already awarded scholarships virtually earlier this spring: Odalis Rivas Reyes turns to her 22-year-old sister, Krissia, and starts to cry.

Krissia wants to get a college degree one day but is happy for her sister, who will be the first to attend a four-year university in a family that came to Arizona from Mexico six years ago to start anew.

Her mom and dad and grandma and younger brother stood by to listen, too, to hear Odalis tell how she learned English and studied hard at Carl Hayden Community High School to make it to this night.

“Because I am an undocumented student this is very important to me; there are so many doors closed to me,” she said. “This scholarship is an opportunity for me to pursue a higher education and make my family proud.”

When SIS recipients come to GCU, they gain more than a scholarship. They also become part of a family of more than 600 who have been awarded it since the program began. (Here’s a slideshow of Tuesday’s announcement.)

Megan Serafini, SIS and External Scholarships Director, emphasizes that SIS is a family.

“SIS is a family from the start,” said Megan Serafini, SIS and External Scholarships Director. “And that makes a big difference.”

This is what happens when a grandma, mom and a daughter come to GCU, practicing expected questions on the drive to campus.

Victoria Davenport instead learns that she has become the first member of her family to go to college, soon after she will become the first to graduate from high school.

“It means a lot,” said her mom, Alyssa. “I was a teen mom, I had Victoria when I was 15. For her to have the opportunities I never had, like living on campus, is a dream.”

Alyssa also is going to college – and will begin taking classes toward a nursing degree at GCU, she said. One day, they may drive to campus together.

This is what happens on a night in April when everything changes for so many families’ futures: There is a sureness in their voices, a hard-earned pride.

“I am the first,” scholarship recipient Imelda Ortiz said. “I get to carry on the hard work for my family.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: Stress melts away to joy for SIS scholarship winners

GCU Today: SIS scholars capitalize on visit to state Capitol

GCU Today: SIS grads bring home the jobs, lift up neighborhood

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