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Susan Kang Sunderland

A Most Deserving Scholarship Winner

Read her application essay and you’ll see why Tashawna Wright of Waianae won this year’s Maurice J. Sullivan Scholarship, worth $10,000

As 2,000 high school seniors leave our shores to pursue higher education, we are reminded of the diligence it takes to reach academic goals. Both family and student go through a lot in the rigors of the college application process. It is not for the meek.

For an insight into the heart and mind of graduates, we turn to Hawaii Rotary Youth Foundation, which screens hundreds of high school seniors for scholarships.

Each year the foundation, founded in 1976 by revered Foodland founder Maurice Sullivan, awards stipends to nurture the college aspirations of Hawaii’s outstanding high school seniors.

Receiving the 2013 Maurice J. Sullivan $10,000 Scholarship is Waianae High School senior Tashawna Wright, 18, daughter of Christine Hernandez. We share her compelling story to demonstrate how life’s setbacks can inspire greatness in the most challenging circumstances.

Coming from an economically disadvantaged community and a school where reportedly only 32 percent of graduating seniors enter college, Wright’s story is heartening.

In an exclusive release, we present the contents – edited for brevity – of Wright’s scholarship essay to Hawaii Rotary Youth Foundation. She tells her story best.

“After high school, I would like to attend a four-year university to further my education. I would like to become a lawyer and provide legal services for those who are in need. I want to advocate for those who don’t have a voice of their own and to protect their rights in the best way possible.

“I come from a background not as exciting as Will Smith or George Lopez. My mother was abandoned on an island at the age of 13 by her own mother. She took the wrong road, resulting in her dropping out of high school. Later on she got her life back together and finally received her GED in 2012.

“My background isn’t very appealing, so I wanted to create a goal that would make my family gain some dignity. My short-term goal was to graduate as class valedictorian and get accepted to college. Although it is a short-term goal, it is a heavy weight on my shoulders. I knew it would take an enormous amount of hard work. As I constantly began to receive straight A’s, I started to believe in myself. My mother would boast about my successes to my family, making me feel like my existence meant something. To finally put a smile on my mother’s face is the most meaningful thing that I have accomplished in my life. With all the past events she’s been through, my report card diminishes her worries. It is like casting away bad demons.

“I am proud to say that I’ve been accepted to four colleges out of the six to which I have applied. In the fall, I will enroll at Western Oregon University and will be the first person in my family to attend a university. I never expected to make it this far. This has pushed me to continue pursuing my dreams.

“One of my long-term goals is to get my degree. I want to show America, the celebrities and all the people who tell me I can’t what I’m capable of doing. As African-Americans, we are constantly looked down upon. The world says discrimination is over, yet I can never go a day without a racial slur or joke thrown at me.

“What people fail to comprehend is all people smile in the same language.

“Another goal that I have is to be financially stable for the sake of my family. Growing up I didn’t receive the newest toys, or attend family trips to Disneyland like my friends because we didn’t have the funds. I don’t blame my mother, because raising four kids on her own is a lot of responsibility.

“Malcolm X stated, ‘A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.’

“To give your life meaning and importance, you must be willing to want it, to want to make a name for yourself.”

Carolynn Kitamura, recipient of the Joanna L. Sullivan scholarship in 2009, would no doubt agree. She graduates this year from University of Hawaii-Manoa with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.

Kitamura says the Rotary scholarship is life-changing.

She is president of the Society of Women Engineers at UH Manoa and vice president of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Honor Society, Eta Kappa Nu. She has been involved with outreach events to help girls pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. A student intern at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, Kitamura was named Cooperative Education Student for 2012.

She adds, “I have published a technical conference paper in antenna research, which I will be presenting at the IEEE International Microwave Symposium in June. And above all of this, I was given the highest honor of outstanding graduating senior in electrical engineering by the UH College of Engineering. After graduation, I will be working at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, Calif., as a full-time electrical engineer.”

That’s what scholarships buy. There’s no better investment.

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