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May 24, 2012

Scholarship Applications = Creative Writing

Chris Cavey

In the strange quixotic world of high school students, wedged in-between prom and graduation, are Senior Award Ceremonies. It is the event where soon-to-be graduates are rewarded and honored. The path to application and awarding State Senatorial Scholarships, however, is both interesting and creative.


For the past two years I have had the honor of serving on State Sen. Joseph Getty's Scholarship Committee. Our committee is made up of four – two guys and two gals – each just regular people from Legislative District 5 (serving Baltimore and Carroll counties), who are willing to pour through about 150 student applications.


Applications to Senator Getty's office are broad and diverse. From graduating high school seniors, to doctorial candidates, to moms going back to school are in the mix. Almost every college and the university in Maryland is represented as targets of these students in search of cash.


My brief stint as an applicant reviewer has revealed that there are about one-third in true financial need. There is another third who have the grades, community service and other activities deserving of recognition. The final third, however, are just hunting for money.


The committee does a pretty good job and, mostly, we agree. Our suggestions are then given to Senator Getty and he hands out the scholarship dollars at the various award ceremonies.


However, there should be a few new categories based on the current crop of applicants:


English Majors with horrible grammar – Unbelievable as it may sound, some of the worst written essays were by those claiming to be English majors. If these writing samples were sent as part of their college applications, they would have been asked to repeat high school English. I know, for sure, that they never had Mrs. Hardin for an English teacher. (She still reviews my articles – because you never stop learning!)


Greatest usage of "I" in a one page composition – The winner is a young lady who used the pronoun "I" 22 times in less than 200 words. (By the way, she’s an English major.) Perhaps the non-usage of “I” is a sign of maturity. Maybe it’s even a political trick – to talk about yourself without referring to yourself. No matter to a reviewer, it just plain looks self-centered.


The "I am a minority, so pay attention to me" award – This takes creativity in Legislative District 5 due to the fact that there are few minorities. Plus, there is nothing on the application or anywhere else in the process which would give away any indicator other than looking at a name to see if it is male or female. The award this year goes to a young lady who boldly stated she was "adopted, Chinese and left-handed, so she is a minority."


The "I demand a scholarship" award – Fantastically enough, there are several people who are very smug and aggressive in writing their applicant statement. A key point is that it is bad form to demand a gift from a state senator (even though his committee reviews them.) Phrases like "I should," "You should know," "I have won many..." and my favorite – starting your essay with "First of all..." All of these people go to the bottom of my pile.


The biggest and broadest new category should be "Creative Writing." After reading more than 100 essays, I was ready to be prescribed an anti-depressant. Yikes! "Oh, the troubles I have seen – and had!"


Seriously, no one could select a random 150 people who have had as many problems as those applying for these scholarships. "I'm being raised by a single Mom," "my Dad died," "my Dad/Mom is out of work," "I have two brothers in college," "my grandmother lives with us," "my sister is pregnant and moving back in with us," "it's tough on the middle class." The list goes on and on. Someday I might compile all the excuses into a litany and create a country song.


But, Senator Getty is fair and even-handed with his dolling out of scholarship money. Academics and need are both important; so is spreading the "love" as evenly as possible throughout each of the high schools within his district. He is a good man who knows the importance of higher education.


As for me..., I enjoy my brief annual glimpse into the world of competitive scholarships. Tonight in Senator Getty's absence, I will give out the scholarship awards at Hereford High School (my alma mater.) Too bad there couldn't be a few statuettes for "Most Creative" or "Best Potential Country Lyrics." It surely would add a little humor to an otherwise expected long and boring ceremony.


P.S. – Congratulations and best of luck to the 2012 District 5 Senatorial Scholarship winners – you have earned it.


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