As I made my way to McKinney North High School, armed with pen and pad, camera on my shoulder, my mission was to interview a National Horatio Alger Scholarship winner. As one of the nation's largest need-based college scholarship programs in the country, the Horatio Alger Scholarship Program specifically assists high school students who have faced and overcome great obstacles in their young lives. While many programs are directed primarily to recognize academic achievement or leadership potential, the Horatio Alger Association looks for different types of students. It seeks the ones who have exhibited determination, integrity and perseverance in overcoming adversity, as well as critical financial need. You can read more about the scholarship here: https://scholars.horatioalger.org/our-impact
This particular scholarship equates to $25,000. With only 100 students across the nation receiving this honor each year, the young lady I’m interviewing is actually a big deal, let me rephrase that: The Real Deal.
The little voice in my head said to “focus on the positive: the money, the outcome,” that’s where the story is. However, to fully understand the magnitude of this honor, you have to dig deeper. Jalen Grant spent the majority of her life in New Orleans, raised by a single mother, who early on, could see her potential. Family circumstances, as difficult as they would become, were never used as an excuse to take shortcuts or give a mediocre performance. Growing up, the most severe punishment for Jalen often meant handing over her much coveted library book – her pleasure reading at the time. Just a small affirmation that this little girl would one day do great things.
Five minutes into the conversation with Jalen, there was no question why she was chosen for such a prestigious award. “Don’t pity me” she would say as she talked about her journey. The 5:00am alarm clock, the hour and a half bus ride to and from school, or even the 29-hour work week she manages was enough to create a lump in my throat. These were the only details I had uncovered and my compassion for this 17 year-old grew vast…fast. “What I am choosing to do with my life allows me to focus on others in need. I do have control over that.” For her undergraduate work, Jalen plans to major in Spanish and minor in business. This will give her a firm foundation for law school, where her dream is to be a bilingual immigration lawyer.
She mentions her mother and the tears start to flow. They aren’t sad tears; but, tears of the utmost adoration and gratitude. Her mom is her role model, accountability partner and sounding board. So you can imagine the rush of emotions when she delivered the news to her mom that her perseverance, hard work, grit and determination to never give up just earned her $25,000. The sweetest part of this story…it’s only the beginning for Jalen Grant.
Since 2005, the McKinney Education Foundation college advisor program has helped graduating seniors like Jalen find more than $121 million (yes, MILLION) in scholarship money. This does not include money from scholarships directly awarded by the McKinney Education Foundation or any kind of federal/state grant funds. This program would not be possible without the generous donors who see the benefit and power it has to change lives.