Thankful. Blessed. Surprised. Three words used to describe how it feels to win a full-ride scholarship. Emily Bourgeois. Re’Nyqua Farrington. Two minority students who opened a big white envelope. One hour. The time difference separating these young women as they realized they have been granted a full ride scholarship to any accredited college or university in the United States on behalf of the Gates Foundation. First destination: Phoenix, Arizona. Still, it wasn’t the final destination for Emily Bourgeois...
"I was a thousand miles away from where I needed to be. The envelope that held the course of my future was being placed in a mailbox in Nebraska while I sat mindlessly waiting in an airport in Arizona. My pulse raced with anticipation for the moment that could change my life forever. The peach nail polish that had been delicately wiped onto my fingers just days earlier, were obliterated to patches of stark orange against my pinkish nail beds, flakes littering the industrial carpet of the Phoenix airport. I refreshed the page on my phone. A girl in Denver had gotten hers. A boy in Washington. I carefully tallied the number to assure myself that there was still a chance that I had a large envelope waiting for me. 36. 50. 75. 100 less spots available of the 1,000. I sighed and tucked the phone back into the pocket of my backpack. I had a four hour flight back to Omaha to worry about. That was all at separated me from my future.
"My plane landed at midnight Omaha time. I carefully grabbed the plastic carry-on bag that held my belongings and walked off the plane with the line of other fatigued passengers. The desolate airport had been closed for the night, lights turned off, tables wiped down, fabric chairs vacuumed for the next day of travel. Waiting in the airport was like the moment in between here and there. I was neither in Omaha nor Pheonix. I was in limbo. The rest of the night was slow-motion. I claimed my bags and met my mom at the door. She shook her head, she hadn’t had a chance to check the mail between jobs and we would find out when we got home. Another hour of waiting. I could deal with that, right?
"We walked in tandem to the car, her carrying my suitcase, me my bag. Then I saw it. Sitting on the passenger seat of my mom’s car was the thick, white envelope that I had dreamed about for six months. I knew that it was mine. We cried. A lot. Maybe too much. She wrapped her arms around her screaming baby and whispered 'We did it. You got it, baby girl!' That was a moment that I will never forget. My mom, who worked two jobs to support my sister and I, who was in college for eight years to get an Associates Degree, who came home exhausted from work only to sit down at the kitchen table with paper and pen until one and two in the morning, who had worked so hard and given me so much, for the first time I was able to say to her 'You don’t have to worry, Momma. I got this one.' My dreams – our dreams – came true in that blink of an eye.
"After I got the scholarship, I didn’t know what to do. I sat there for a bit and allowed it to sink in. The first person outside of my family who learned was my Guidance Counselor who had helped me in the application process. She was elated to say the least as I was the first person at my school to be a finalist, let alone a recipient, of the Gates award. Some were not so happy, however, and I was met with a lot of jealousy and resentment from classmates. People at my school didn’t understand how a girl who “looked white” or “wasn’t poor” could get a low-income minority scholarship. People thought that my life was what I presented at school, but that’s the farthest thing from true. I turned inward after the first few days, and kept quiet about my achievement.
“'So these are my goals-- from the most minute to the grandiose. They all lie on the premise of loving others, serving others, and keeping my heart in the right place. If given this opportunity, I want to use it to help each and every person who has ever helped me. I want to be able to say, here is what we all did. This is just one piece of the puzzle.” The ending sentence from my last essay for Gates. I feel like I need to live up the expectations of those who helped me get there. There’s this immense pressure on my back that makes me more determined than ever to reach my dreams. Going through seven years of schooling is difficult in and of itself, but I am representing more than just myself. I am representing my tribe, my family, the Gates Foundation, and every person who was told to wait their turn. This is my chance to make a difference in the world, and no one can take that away. My full-ride is not the end of my journey – no – it is just the beginning."
Second destination: Snellville, Georgia. No crazy airport line, no four-hour flight, but a frantic day for Re’Nyqua Farrington nonetheless as she too would discover the beginning of her full-ride journey.
"April 18th. I spent weeks planning for this day. It was the day of the Special Olympics at my school and I volunteered to help organize the entire event. I was on high alert all day making sure volunteers received water and athletes received ribbons. By the end of the day my feet were sore and my skin was sizzling. When I finally made it home, I sat down, took a deep breath, and my mind started spinning at a hundred miles per hour. Now that the Special Olympics were over, the only thoughts occupying my mind concerned a scholarship I applied to months ago. I was a finalist, but I wouldn’t be able to breathe until I discovered if I was awarded the scholarship or not. The scholarship program guaranteed us a decision by late April but that was too vague for my overworked mind. Still I kept a cautious eye as the postal worker drove past my house the entire month of April. Continuing the tradition, I peeked out of the blinds on April 18th and as soon as I noticed my mail lady strategically stuff a big white envelope in my mailbox, I lunged for the closest pair of shoes I could find and ran to my mailbox. The envelope was addressed to me, from the United Negro College Fund, on behalf of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program.
"I didn’t scream. I didn’t jump. I stopped. I was completely shocked and I started shaking. I opened the envelope and there was a beautiful folder with information congratulating and welcoming me to the final class of Gates Millennium Scholars. My first phone call was my mom. She picked up the phone in a hushed tone. My only words were “Mom I got it, I got the scholarship.” She didn’t believe me. She asked me if I was joking and I had to send her photographic proof in a text before she could entertain the idea that I earned a scholarship which would allow me to graduate college debt-free. When she finally realized I wasn’t joking she tearfully said, “This doesn’t happen to people from the Virgin Islands,” and with the biggest smile on my face I replied, “Well it just did.” A moment later, I heard the garage open and suddenly my dad walked in on me sitting at the kitchen table with scattered papers and shaky hands. “I got it, I got the scholarship. College funding all the way through graduate school," and with the biggest smile on his face, he replied, 'Wow, I’m so proud of you.'
"Overwhelmed. Pressured. Indecisive. Three words used to describe how it feels after winning a full-ride scholarship. Everyone congratulated me: teachers, students and friends. They were so willing so throw their hands up and testify how they helped me along my journey. Teachers who reprimanded me for voicing my opinion too often in their class were suddenly my greatest ally with remarks like, 'I could have written a nice recommendation for you,' or my favorite 'I didn’t even know you applied for the scholarship, why didn’t you tell me?' Students who did not talk to me in months were cloaking their frustrations in jagged compliments. 'You’re so lucky you don’t have thousands of dollars of loans like me.' Um thanks (how exactly was I supposed to respond?). 'Why don’t you go to a different college, if I were you I would go to Harvard.' My friends were even more misguided. They asked me if could introduce them to Bill Gates or if they could lend them money. Too many of my friends misunderstood what the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program was all about. I wasn’t awarded money. I was awarded an opportunity to get the best education possible without any racial or socioeconomic barriers. This scholarship didn’t make me or my family any richer than we already were.
"'After my mom admitted there were no college savings for me, I began an endless search for scholarships and begged my mom to stay far away from the bank. It was my turn to act selflessly and her turn to reap the benefits.' The ending sentences from my last essay for Gates. When I wrote these words I did not imagine that my dreams would become a reality, but now that they have I fully intend on taking this opportunity to leave a lasting impact in my community and around the world."
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