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CORRECTION 08/14/14: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Gavin Yu's mothers name. This version reflects the correction of her name to Tara Geist.
As the end of summer vacation looms and the beginning of a new school year approaches, students are counting their blessings for the scholarships that will help them cover the costs of their college education. Most of these students are 18, but Gavin Yu, a recipient of a $1,000 grand prize scholarship from the Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET) Dream Big Competition, is only 8 years old, and he isn't exactly sure what to make of this blessing.
The future and career ambitions are vague concepts and distant thoughts for Gavin, who says college is important because it "helps you learn." The scholarship has caused some confusion for Gavin, who told his mother, Tara Geist, that he planned to use the money to buy a car and was surprised to find out that college cost money.
"He said 'why would anyone pay to go to school?" he said.
Geist said that although the concept of cost was over her son's head, the scholarship program helps to "plant the seed" of higher education at a young age.
"The contest is a great initiative to kind of spark (the idea of college) in their minds," said Geist. "It's a goal. At least it's something they can look forward to."
Each year, CHET Dream Big awards scholarships to students in kindergarten through fifth-grade, with only three grand prize winners. Gavin, who was finishing second grade at Mohegan Elementary School in Montville when he was awarded the grand prize for students in second- and third-grade, won the scholarship with his submission of a drawing depicting himself as an astronaut, showing what he wanted to do to change the world after he graduates college 14 years from now.
Allison Peterson, the principal at Mohegan school, said that although her students are young, the scholarship contest allows them to make use of their vivid imaginations.
"I love the idea that kids are thinking about their future (and) the bigger picture," said Peterson. "I don't think that kids are ever too young to have goals and dreams."
Peterson said that the entire second grade at Mohegan and almost all of the third-graders submitted drawings or essays to the scholarship contest. From the student's submissions - many depicting future careers as veterinarians and rocket scientists like Gavin - Peterson says teachers were able to facilitate abstract thought and allow students to express themselves and their ideas in a way that many classroom activities do not allow.
"You have to break it down (to) 'what do you want to be when you grow up' and 'what impact do you want to have on the world?' That's something they can wrap their brains around," said Peterson. "They were able to capture how they were feeling about something as abstract as the future and college and what's your future going to be."
For Gavin, the future appears stellar and science-focused. The 8-year-old, who says playtime and math are his favorite subjects in school, recently adopted a cactus and has been researching how to care for the plant on the internet. While he doesn't believe in aliens, Gavin says it would be fun to visit space and "look around outside of the world," which is what he drew himself doing in his scholarship contest submission.
The youngest of three kids who split their time between their father's home in Montville and their mother's home in New London, Gavin says he and his family are proud that he won a prize with his drawing. While he said he had fun making his drawing, he admitted "it took me forever to draw the black stuff."