When April arrives each academic year, students at Summit High School get excited — not just for spring break, but the annual Scholarship Night where select seniors are presented a trove of awards totaling hundreds of thousands of local dollars.
For prizewinners, who first learn of their specific scholarships at the event, it can be the difference between attending college and not pursuing postsecondary education at all. For others like senior Aurora Lopez, who planned to attend Colorado State University either way, the grants announced on Tuesday, April 5, are helping to alleviate some of the financial burden and stress that came with the decision to attend college, in addition to providing a newfound confidence.
“I’m really moved by how much the community believes in us seniors,” said Lopez, “that we’re going to go somewhere in life. Knowing I have a community backing me up and backing me up financially, it eases mine and my parents’ minds. I feel a lot more secure now going into my freshman year of college.”
She grew up in Summit County and came up through Upper Blue Elementary before the district middle school and was then inspired by Sara Velasquez-Gacnik, her high school English language arts teacher of three years, to consider CSU. Gacnik, a CSU alum who graduated in 2009, put her pupil onto the Key Communities at Colorado State, which provide first- and second-year students with learning communities in the residence halls as they make the transition to college.
After visiting the school and learning about the Key Communities geared toward first-generation students, Lopez “fell in love with the atmosphere of CSU” and, in November, made her school choice. She’ll enter undeclared, which offers its own apprehensions. With the support of the Key academic program, however, coupled with the $10,000 across eight awards for her first year that she took home from the scholarship ceremony, she feels she’s better set up for success the moment she arrives on campus.
“I feel very blessed that the community gives so much money toward seniors,” she said. “Other communities don’t give that opportunity. And before I was more scared than anything, and now I’m actually excited to go.”