Tears came to many an eye as the seven college-bound winners of Kiwanis Club of West San Jose 2017 Turnaround Scholarships shared their personal stories at a luncheon to honor them, held on May 18 in San Jose at the Three Flames Restaurant. The $1,500 scholarships are awarded to students who have overcome personal obstacles to turn their lives around, graduate from high school and head for college.
“There are a lot of great kids who’ve had a lot of adversity in their lives and have risen to the challenge and gone on to do well,” said Club president Lynne Stephenson. “Today our goal is to honor the best of the best.”
The best of the best: Atanass Arseniev, Menely Flores and Tsion Irenson at Del Mar High School, San Jose; Henry Vazquez, Lincoln High School, San Jose; Sepiuta Tuakalau, New Valley High School, Santa Clara; and Yvette Avila and Briana Romeiro, Wilson High School, Santa Clara.
Tuakalau, born in Tonga, spoke about being sent back to Tonga for two years, where she was unable to attend high school. When she returned to California to reunite with her mother, she was two years behind and entered school as a junior with zero credits. Yet, she is graduating with her class.
“I did three times as much as I could,” Tuakalau told the luncheon guests. “I’m happy to make my family proud….This is a big deal for my family and my mother. I love you, Mom. I will be the first in our family to go to college.”
“Not everything will be perfect and go your way,” continued Taukalau, who is considering a nursing career, “but if you stick with it and don’t give up, it will be perfect at the end of the day.”
Romeiro had been a recluse and was hospitalized because she wouldn’t eat, but she turned her life around her sophomore year.
“I got better with the help of my teachers and counselor, and I will graduate on time in spite of all that,” said Romeiro, headed for DeAnza College. “We are the next generation, and it’s up to us to learn and help the environment and the world.”
“Those of you who received scholarships should be very proud….We chose seven of you out of 35 [applicants]. We were so impressed with all of these scholarship winners,” said Stephenson. “We are proud of your achievements and turning things around for yourself so you say ‘yes’ to future success.”
Luncheon speaker Dr. Robert J. Pellegrini, San Jose State University Professor Emeritus of Psychology and author of “Education for the Joy of It,” told his own story of turning his life around after growing up with physical and emotional abuse and escaping to the streets when he was 16.
“Education was my way out,” said Pellegrini. “[We must] recognize our past for what it is–history–and not let ourselves be held hostage by our past.”
Drawing from “Life Construction 101,” his program for strengthening one’s educational foundation at any age, Pellegrini spoke about the characteristics of achievers.
“Successful people take personal responsibility for their lives and practice failure-proof thinking….Don’t be discouraged by failure,” said Pellegrini.
He pointed out the need for a dream as well as drive, saying, “No creative endeavor becomes a reality without someone first having a vision for it.”
How to Win Scholarships
“Be patient with the process. Take time to look. There are hundreds of scholarships out there,” said Lincoln High School counselor Vince Mora. “Take time to apply and apply for multiple scholarships. Tweak the personal college statement that you’ve already written.”
“There could be two people or ten thousand applying for a scholarship. Take that risk and apply. Apply even for small scholarships. $200 can buy a lot,” said Mora.
The Kiwanis Clubs of West San Jose and of Santa Clara are part of California District 12, which awarded more than $188,000 in Turnaround Scholarships in 2017. Club information: West San Jose, www.wsjk.org, and Santa Clara, sckiwanis.biz.nf or call 408-247-7675.