Three Marianas High School seniors received the good news Wednesday that they’ve been named Gates Millennium Scholars, among 1,000 other students around the globe selected to receive the prestigious scholarship.
This is the second time that three students from MHS were awarded the scholarship, which drew over 50,000 applicants this year alone. According to scholarship officials, this was the most competitive year yet and garnered the highest amount of GMS applicants.
The Dolphin scholars—Matthew Lopez, Jill Ann Arada, and Stephanie Xiao—can use the scholarship at any college or university of their choice for 10 years. The scholarship award will cover unmet needs and self-help aid, is renewable for scholars maintaining satisfactory academic progress, and will also provide graduate school funding in the areas of computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health, or science.
“We are very proud and excited. Their achievements make us stand strong as a school,” said school counselor Janice Muña in an interview.
Muña, who assisted the scholars in the application process, said this achievement is a testament to the access students have to the resources and people who help them apply for the scholarships.
She said the scholarship “helps them become more giving to the community.”
“They are part of the community and they constantly give. As a school we are constantly in support of them,” she added.
MHS students Gilda Ogarro, Marjorie Ann Cuerdo, and Yu June Lee were awarded the scholarship last year.
Arada said she is honored and humbled to have been selected as a 2014 GMS scholar.
“I feel very thankful to be a part of the 1,000 scholars. Words can’t express how I feel about receiving such a great honor. I also feel very thankful [to] the people who helped me along the way. My parents, nominator, recommender, and all the people who believed and motivated me were my sources of inspiration,” she told Saipan Tribune.
Receiving the award means a great victory for the CNMI “because it shows that people don’t have to be the valedictorian with the highest grades to achieve their dreams,” she added.
Arada said she has always had a burning passion for biology and engineering and will take full advantage of the scholarship to become a doctor in her field.
The 18-year-old student plans to major in biomedical engineering at the Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Competing in the Real World Design challenge, a high school competition where students work on real world engineering challenges as a team, kindled her interest in the engineering field.
“Combining these two fields brought me to the conclusion that that was the major I want to pursue,” she said.
Fellow senior student Stephanie Xiao, who plans on studying international relations at the University of Virginia, expressed similar sentiments. The senior scholar said that receiving the scholarship “means that I can have a bright future to develop my skills and to pursue my dreams.”
Xiao, born on Saipan, was raised in China and returned four years ago to complete her high school education. Her dual experience of living in China and the CNMI gave her a sense of knowledge about diverse cultures.
“I want to study other cultures and be involved in them and I want to become a diplomat in the future,” she said. When she returned to her birthplace, she did not know any English at all but eventually overcame the language barrier and succeeded academically.
“I hope other students who do not know much English can study hard to learn it. My message to them is that if they know what they want to do, they can do it despite anything,” she added.
Lopez said that he could not believe the news when he received it. He said that he worked endlessly on early mornings and late nights to perfect his essays attached to his application to showcase his true self.
“It was definitely a relief that all my hard work paid off. This was God’s leading,” he said.
He told Saipan Tribune that the financial aspect of college was one of the biggest hindrances he was concerned about after graduating from MHS this year. “I did not know how I would be able to afford tuition. When I heard about the scholarship in my sophomore year from previous scholars, I knew that this was the opportunity to make my dreams become a reality.”
Lopez plans to major in biochemistry or pre-med while taking nursing at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee.
He aspires to become a pediatrician and plans to return to Saipan to help those struggling with diabetes, obesity, and heart disease by establishing his own clinic.
Lopez urges fellow Saipan youth never to give up on their dreams.
“I want to encourage the youth to never stop believing in themselves and to grab every opportunity whenever it is available. They may never expect what the end-result might be after working hard to achieve your goals,” he said.