The Seedling Scholarship: changing the world for the better

Unless someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.
– Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel), from The Lorax

As an adult, I have always understood how fortunate I am with the opportunities that have been presented to me throughout my life. My father, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines, came as a teenager who only knew the words “yes” and “no.” His academic education ended with the second grade because his father needed him to work in the fields. He came to America, he once told me, to “change his luck.” He began his immigrant life as a farm worker and later spent the majority of his career as a cook. While most would say he achieved a modest goal, he and my mother lived fairly comfortable lives (they were also hard-core savers). The biggest goal my father and mother had was to ensure that their three daughters went to college and had solid careers. When we three graduated from high school and then college, and for me graduate school, they were incredibly proud.

Being in the high school environment again – through Jacob, who started his freshman year at El Cerrito High School last fall – I feel the same excitement of possibilities, of the world opening up. But for many students, the prospect of going to college is either a pipe dream or a journey fraught with challenges and barriers. And one of those barriers is financial. That was the main reason I wanted to establish a needs-based scholarship for seniors. But I want it to be more than that. If our family was going to help create opportunities, then the recipient must also “pay it forward.”

Our family – David, Jacob, Isabella, and I – established The Seedling Scholarship this year to encourage young women and men to act on their compassion and become engaged citizens by making positive contributions and to be of service to their communities – whether it be local, state, national, or overseas. The scholarship recognizes and supports a graduating El Cerrito High School senior whose passion in life is to be a social change agent and whose goal is to make the world a better, more inclusive place for their fellow human beings and/or by being compassionate stewards of and advocates for our environment and the animals on our planet.

Originally, the scholarship was named The Lorax Scholarship because I came across a line from Dr. Seuss’s book and it resonated with me. This, I thought, is exactly what the scholarship is all about. We opted out of trying to secure permission and decided upon the name The Seedling Scholarship, which embodies the same ideas and the desire to nurture our communities.

I sought to create a committee of three to be my readers, so I thank Jane, Lisa, and Kimi with all my heart. I was guided by the nurturing career and guidance counselor Bobbi Griggs in the career center. We all read the 10 applications that came in, and when it came time to run the applications through my admittedly evolving rubric, we all came to the same conclusion: the experience of learning about these amazing kids, the adversities they faced, and the successes they achieved was both humbling and profound. I truly believe that when things come too easily you don’t fully appreciate what you have. When you struggle and you stay in the battle and come out on top, victory is all the sweeter. That’s what we all learned about many of the applicants. When it came time to determine a recipient, we discussed the intangibles that go beyond GPAs and well-written essays. We talked about heart and drive. We talked about what it took to get to where these students are. We discussed who could really make their dreams come true – if they were able to get financial aid.

In the end, our readers voted on choosing two recipients. And I’d like you to meet them.

Congratulating ECHS graduating senior Monet Boyd!

Congratulating ECHS graduating senior Monet Boyd!

Monet Boyd: building a better community and empowering its members
“I have always wanted to uplift and build the people in my community, but never had the tools, network, or platform,” wrote Monet in her essay. “I want to show my people what they are capable of, so that we may grow as a collective group.” By attending Cal Poly Pomona with a dual major in urban planning and African-American Studies, Monet hopes to “promote the importance of Black business and group economics” and “educate my community about our ancestors so that we may have knowledge of ourselves.”

Monet went on to write: “I will teach young Black boys and girls their history/identity so they realize that they are capable of greatness and can change their circumstances like our ancestors have done many times before. I will teach young and old people of the struggle, the pain, the triumph, and the victories of our people so that we may love ourselves as well as one another.”

As an urban planner, Monet wrote, “I will create strategic and specific plans to renew, revitalize, and restore my community. I will make the City of Richmond a stable, eco-friendly city, as well as beautiful in all areas. The City of Richmond would reflect the hearts and the history of Richmond. These improvements will allow citizens of Richmond to understand that they deserve the best for their community; thus wanting more for themselves and others.”

In addition to excelling in academics and volunteering within her church, Monet, who will be the first in her family to attend college, works part time for the City of El Cerrito to help support her family. Among the many leadership roles she held, she was president of the Black Student Union for three years. One of her letters of recommendation cited her “resiliency, determination, and motivation…” Her AP Language and Composition teacher wrote, “Our school was recognized this year for our enormous gains in school climate over the past three years, and with all seriousness, Monet deserves significant credit in the matter for the multifaceted ways she has created community on our campus.”

I was on a business trip when the night of the Senior Awards Night, so I wasn’t there to hand the certificate to her, which truly pained me. When I saw the program, her name was under numerous awards – and for good reason. I was able to meet Monet this past week. The first thing that struck me about her was her kindness. Coupled with that was a quiet resolve. Those two traits will serve her well. In order to achieve the lofty goals she has set for herself, one has to have determination and resolve. But more importantly, one has to be passionate and compassionate. And those are the very things the Seedling Scholarship was created to reward. Congratulations, Monet!

Congratulations, ECHS graduating senior Akeilah Ward-Hale!

Congratulations, ECHS graduating senior Akeilah Ward-Hale!

Akeilah Ward-Hale: turning hardships into strengths
Akeilah and her mother have faced many hardships and challenges, but despite the challenges, she wrote in her essay, “I have learned some valuable lessons that I will carry throughout my life. I have learned to never take things for granted, to appreciate every resource I am given, to try to stay positive even in the worst situations, to work hard, and to be grateful for my mother, someone who has never given up and supported me through everything.”

She continued, “Being this low at a point in my life had inspired me to want to help people that are hurt, in pain or just stressed out…Having that certain experience in my life has pushed me to do well in school and not become another statistic that doesn’t take education seriously.” Akeilah, who will be attending Cal State East Bay in the fall, wants to become a doctor so she can provide healthcare in her community of Richmond, which she points out lacks doctors and medical insurance coverage.

Akeilah’s counselor touted the way she “consistently challenged herself throughout high school by taking Honors and AP courses.” Akeilah had juggled the demanding coursework, a part-time job, tutoring in an afterschool program, and volunteering at her church. Her counselor wrote, “Never once had she indicated that they (her mother and she) were experiencing hardship nor complained about her situation. Clearly, to persist with her education despite these circumstances displays a tremendous amount of grit. Akeilah has admitted to wanting to give up on occasion throughout her high school career, but she stayed focused on her education. To say I am proud of her is an understatement. Akeilah is one of the most inspiring students I’ve worked with in my career….”

What really resonated with me was Akeilah’s statement: “The hardships you go through is just making you stronger to succeed I life.” When I met her on campus on Friday, she exuded that sense of strength through adversity and also wisdom gained from having conquered her adversities. I felt that hard-earned confidence in her presence, and I came away with the knowledge that she will succeed in her goals because she has faced many challenges in her young life and understands what it takes to come out on top. And she believes in herself, as do we. Congratulations, Akeilah!

The Seedling Scholarship is very proud to offer scholarships to these deserving two young women in its inaugural year!