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Monument Valley proud of Gates Millennium Scholarship students

KAYENTA, Ariz. – A Native high school in Arizona is rather proud of some of its recent graduates.

Monument Valley High School, in Kayenta, Ariz., had 11 of its graduating students win the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship this year.

Each year 1,000 of these scholarships, which cover all university expenses for their post-secondary careers, are awarded to minority students across the United States.

Monument Valley had more recipients this year than any other school in the country.

“Receiving the Gates Millennium Scholarship is a life-changing event for these students,” said Diane Fuller, the school’s English department chair.

Winning these scholarships is a huge benefit to the recipients, she said.

“The majority of them would have gone on (to a post-secondary school,) but many of them would have to get part-time jobs or even go to school part-time.”

Monument Valley has an enrollment of about 900 students; and 99 percent of them are Navajo.

“It’s given our school recognition,” Fuller said of the high number of scholarship winners.

Five of the 11 recipients from Monument Valley are now attending Arizona State University. This list of students, and what they plan to major in, includes Gerrick Begay, political science; Brittany John, pre-pharmacy; Stephen Kelly, secondary education-mathematics; Merry Manson, anthropology, and Tomiko Tohdacheeny, environmental sciences-biology.

A pair of other award winners – Taleisa Benally and Chantal Kescoli – are at the University of Arizona. Benally plans to major in pre-podiatry while Kescoli’s major will be in exercise science.

The other Monument Valley grads who were awarded Gates Millennium Scholarships are Audrienna Brady, Savanna Begay, Petra Gonnie and Isaih Plummer.

Brady is at Colorado’s Fort Lewis College, where she is studying political science. Begay opted for the University of Arizona, where she is a nursing student. Gonnie is at Oklahoma Panhandle State University studying veterinary medicine. And Plummer is in California, at Stanford University, where he is taking civil engineering classes.

The Gates Millennium Scholarship program is a venture funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The aim of the program is to expand access and opportunity to higher education for those who reflect society’s diversity.

By offering full scholarships, the program’s goal is to promote academic excellence and to provide an opportunity for students to reach their full potential.

Another program goal is to have scholarship recipients eventually receive a university degree and then be prepared to take on important roles as leaders in their chosen professions as well as in their communities.

Applying for a Gates Millennium Scholarship is a lengthy ordeal; applicants have to write eight essays.

“It’s a rigorous application process,” Fuller said. “It just about takes all semester.”

Fuller teaches a college prep class at Monument Valley, but said the majority of the scholarship application duties are done outside of class time.

“For most of it they do it all on their own, but they help each other and push each other along. They motivate each other.”

Not all of the Monument Valley students who applied for the scholarship ended up receiving it; the school had 13 applicants.

To be eligible for the scholarships, applicants must be American Indian, Alaska Native, African American, Asian and Pacific Islander American or Hispanic American.

Besides being an American citizen or legal permanent resident, applicants must also have a cumulative high school grade point average of 3.3 out of 4.0.

Applicants also had to be enrolling for the first time at an accredited college or university in the U.S., as a full-time, degree-seeking student.

They also had to have demonstrated leadership abilities through participating in community service or extracurricular activities.

Fuller said students at Monument Valley have been applying for the Gates Millennium Scholarship since 2005, when there was one winner from Monument Valley.

Last year the school had six scholarship winners.

Fuller is thrilled the school managed to increase that number to 11.

“It’s not planned; it just happened.”