Local high school students named Millennium scholars


Three Valencia County students getting ready to graduate high school next week are well on their way to a bright future thanks to Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

This year, three of the 1,000 Gates Millennium Scholars are local seniors and recipients of the good-through-graduation scholarship to use at any college or university of their choice.

Belen seniors Emily Sedillo and Anthony Jones, and Los Lunas senior Merissa Begay will each receive scholarships from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to pay for any college expenses not already covered by other financial aid sources.

Since the program was established in 1999, 52,000 applications are accepted each year, and only 1,000 scholarships are awarded.

“This opens a lot of doors,” Jones said.

His ultimate goal is to attend MIT, but the cost of tuition seemed to put it out of reach.

He didn’t apply for fall admission and by the time he found out he was a Gates Millennium winner, it was too late. So Jones will attend New Mexico Tech and begin his engineering degree this fall before transferring to the east coast school.

“I kind of stopped considering MIT. It just seemed so far out of reach,” Jones said. “But now, this changes everything.”

Begay said she is so proud to be a positive role model in her family.

“I’ve always wanted to show my family that it is possible to go to school and accomplish better things,” Begay said.

She knew she wanted to do something with chemistry, but it wasn’t until the University of New Mexico/New Mexico State University cooperative pharmacy program talked to students at the Los Lunas High School college fair that she decided to pursue pharmacology.

“I always I wanted to pursue chemistry, and when they came to talk to us, that made up my mind,” Begay said. “I want to be an oncology pharmacist because my grandpa’s sister had cancer, and I wanted to help people going through the same thing she was going through.”

“There’s a better life out there,” Begay said. “You just have to keep your head on straight, have a goal you want to accomplish, and anything you set your mind to, you are capable of doing.”

The award also covers travel expenses to allow the students to return home twice a semester, so Jones and Sedillo will be able to return to the county easily.

Sedillo has been admitted to and will attend Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. Having travel costs covered will make it easier to make the trip home to see her family, she said.

“My parents are excited for me to go. This scholarship makes it so much easier. I know it’s a big relief for them,” Sedillo said. “It’s far but they wanted me to go where I wanted to.”

She decided on the coastal school after spending several weeks there last summer attending a law camp. Sedillo plans to major in biology and minor in political science.

To qualify for the scholarship, students must have a cumulative high school grade point average of 3.3 on an unweighted 4.0 scale or earned a GED, and have demonstrated leadership abilities through participation in community service, extracurricular or other activities.

The application packet also asks for a letter of recommendation and applicants complete eight 1,000-word essays on topics ranging from their goals after graduation to who was the biggest influence on their life.

“It was a lot of work but it was worth it,” Sedillo said.

The Gates Millennium Scholars Program, funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was established in 1999 to provide outstanding African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American and Hispanic American students with an opportunity to complete an undergraduate college education in any discipline area of interest.

Continuing Gates Millennium Scholars may request funding for a graduate degree program in one of the following discipline areas: computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science.

-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.