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Seniors, parents rejoice over Martin Luther King Jr. scholarships

There were “tears all around,” shouts of joy and gasps of shock in the homes of 13 seniors from high schools throughout the region recently, as they and their parents met online with members of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Trust Fund.

As applicants for the prestigious $20,000 scholarship, the seniors from high schools in New London County were asked to log onto a Zoom session for some final questions. This time, they were asked to have a parent in the Zoom session.

After answering how the scholarship money would help accomplish their dreams, a trust committee member responded: “Well, we hope you are able to do all of those things, because we have decided to gift you this $20,000 Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship!”

“I was really shocked when they told me,” said Amy Carlosviza, 17, of Norwich, a senior at Norwich Free Academy. “When they told me, I actually cried. I was very, very happy when I got it. I actually cried. I appreciated it a lot, and I plan to do something big in the future.”

The NFA board of trustees honored the school’s five recipients Tuesday, with Chairman DeVol Joyner saying they represented the ideals the academy strives for in its student body.

Carlosviza told the board she plans to attend the University of Connecticut and major in economics. She plans to become a lawyer. Jason Hicks Jr., 17, of Preston said he plans to major in business statistics and become a data scientist. Hannah Lin, 16, of Norwich said she hopes to major in biology and become a pediatrician.

Cynthia Deneus, 17, of Norwich, who could not attend Tuesday's meeting, later said she has been fascinated by airplanes since she was a kid. She would ask her mother how this or that part of a plane worked every time they traveled. She is considering several colleges and plans to major in aerospace engineering “to work with airplanes and how to make them.”

Shayla Roche, 17, of Norwich plans to pursue a degree in nursing and also has several colleges on her list.

“My reaction was complete shock,” Roche said. “My entire body was shaking. It was an out-of-body experience I have never had before. My mother covered her face and burst into tears from overwhelming shock and joy.”

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Trust Fund also awarded scholarships to Mustafa Dannett and Peter Lucido, both of New London High School; Angel Jolee Carter and Jose Manuel Castillo of St. Bernard High School in Montville; Nadalia McLeary of Ledyard High School, Elviany Quiroz of Fitch High School in Groton, Sydney Swann of Williams School in New London and Taina Smith of New London Science & Technology Magnet High School.

The scholarship fund dates to 1968 and was created in the wake of King’s assassination. What started as an award to New London High School seniors has spread countywide, the amount now $5,000 per year for four years.

The normal process for announcing the winners and celebrating their achievements has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic for the past two years, said Birse Timmons, trust fund president.

Pre-COVID, trust members would arrive at each school and surprise recipients in front of their classmates. All recipients would be feted with a gala dinner, when they would present speeches telling their stories and their dreams.

This year, the recipients learned the news on what they were told was their final Zoom interviews. The group celebration will be held online Oct. 21, livestreamed at the MLK website, mlktrustfund.org/live, and on the trust fund's Facebook page.

Timmons said selecting from among the 22 scholar applicants was very difficult. “All of the applicants are very good,” he said. “I wish we could give more scholarships to more students, but we’re limited by the funds we have.”

He described the announcement Zoom sessions as “tears all around,” as parents and students felt the impact of $20,000 on their college plans. Some said it would allow them to focus on their studies and worry less about finances.

Jason Hicks Sr., whose son is a scholarship recipient at NFA, said he, too, “could not stop crying” during the Zoom announcement. The elder Hicks’ parents lived in Tennessee during the civil rights movement. His father, Jason Jr.’s grandfather, died recently, and the boy’s grandmother “was doing back flips” at the news of the scholarship, Hicks Sr. said.

“All of them worked very hard to sustain these grades that they do,” Hicks said of the scholarship recipients before turning back to his son standing beside him. “I’m so proud of him.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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