On an overcast Saturday this month, ten Fort Worth area high school students made their way to our downtown office to interview for a new four-year scholarship competition. A big part of the scholarship design from the outset was rooted in our belief that some students may not have the perfect high school “resume” but still have the potential to succeed in college because of their determination, which is a proxy for that personal quality that transcends even GPA to indicate that a student is going to make it. All of our finalists were strong students, but each persevered to achieve through circumstances that seemed impossible.
We decided to create the Dream Big Fort Worth Determined Scholarship Award program because it has become more and more difficult for a child growing up in challenging circumstances to make it to and through college. New research indicates that economic mobility is on the decline in our nation. And while there are system-wide efforts underway to address educational inequities in our city, we felt the need to act now, even if only in a small way. This sense of urgency is not only driven by compassion, but also because our destinies are tied with the future of every child who grows up in our city. When our children reach their full potential we reap the benefits. When they don’t we pay the price.
We wish each and every reader could have been with us during these interviews. We got a glimpse of the future, through the hopes and dreams of the finalists. The very real fates of these students’ friends, neighbors and family members, those who had not been able to get a good education and reach their full potential, is a stark reality. Our scholars clearly understood what was at stake for them and their entire family. And they, in turn, helped us understand what’s at stake for everyone in our community. Here’s what we took away from the day:
- Our students are resilient. We’ve long believed that what happens to you is not as important as what happens inside you, and our 2017 Determined Scholars demonstrate that despite the very real effects of things like homelessness, abuse and extreme poverty, if given hope and opportunity, students will rise.
- Whether or not we have school-aged children, we all have supporting roles to play. It was inspiring to hear how a guidance counselor or an employer went out of her way, or how a volunteer who spent a little extra time can have powerful positive effects on our students along the way. We will be deprived of our students’ full potential if we deprive them of ours.
- These are gifts that will keep on giving. The ten scholarship finalists we interviewed had a variety of interests from art to engineering, but they all had something in common. Each of them was not only committed to their own learning but also committed to future professions where they would care for, inspire and lift up others.
Most important it’s clear that we need more opportunity. For every student we interviewed there are countless more like them. 400 students started the Determined Scholars process just in this inaugural year. Helping students who are working hard is addictive and we intend to do more. For more information about the Determined Scholars program see www.dreambigfortworth.org. Please consider donating so that we can expand the program to help more students.
A special thanks to Gary Wortel and Kim Blouin at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram who collaborated with us from the very beginning.
Morton Meyerson is the founder of the The David Nathan Meyerson Foundation. Jeremy Smith is the Co-President and Executive Director of the Rainwater Charitable Foundation