PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Eight students from Red Cloud High School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation have received the Gates Millennium Scholarship, tying two other schools nationwide for the highest number of scholars selected from a high school in the country. This is also the highest number of scholars to come from Red Cloud since the scholarship's inception in 1999.
''This is an unprecedented day for Red Cloud,'' said the Rev. Peter Klink SJ, president of Red Cloud. ''This is a tremendous achievement for our students, and a testament to the faculty and entire student body for their hard work throughout the academic year. I couldn't be more excited for these students.''
''What an honor this is - I'm nearly speechless,'' said David Anaya, a Red Cloud senior and recipient of the award. ''I can't tell you what recognition like this means: to have the dollars now available to me to pursue a higher education, which I believe is so important, and necessary, in this day and age.''
The Gates Millennium Scholarship is a ''big deal,'' as Anaya said, as it will pay for any unmet financial need that the students have as they continue their postsecondary education at the college or university of their choosing. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the scholarships are given to applicants who exemplify excellence in the classroom and in the community.
Christa Moya, director of the Native American Department for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, said the students at Red Cloud - and across the country - continue to make the selection process difficult, as ''the applicants demonstrate exceptional involvement in their community and an unparalleled scholarship in the classroom.''
Prior to this year, the scholarship has been offered to 24 graduates from Red Cloud. Last year, seven students received the honor.
''A large factor in the number of recipients is the determination each applicant puts into their essays,'' said Elisabeth Ellington, senior English teacher and a mentor to applicants. ''The seniors are very focused on their futures, coming in on weekends and holidays to perfect their applications.''
Scholarship mentors like Ellington are important to the process.
''Mrs. Ellington really inspired me to find my 'inner self,' putting the essence of who I am into my essays,'' Anaya said.
The year's Gates recipients will attend a variety of colleges and universities, from South Dakota State University to Marquette University in Wisconsin.
Just the facts
Red Cloud Indian School's 2008 Gates Millennium Scholars and their college choice and intended major:
*David Anaya, Marquette University, undecided
*Season Frank, South Dakota State University, nursing
*Dylan Fills Pipe, Creighton University, education and business management
*Danielle Hudspeth, Creighton University, chemistry and biology
*Chant Knight, University of California - Los Angeles or Creighton University, pre-medical studies
*Vern Pino, Creighton University, computer science
*Stevie Tobacco, South Dakota State University, nursing
*Audrey White, Gonzaga University, social work