Scholar, mother earns national scholarship
Student will receive $40,000 for three years
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Liberal arts, social and behavioral arts major Sasha Graham is one of 55 two-year college students in the nation to receive the $40,000 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship.
Through this scholarship, Graham will receive $40,000 per year for three years to complete her undergraduate studies at a four-year university.
Graham will also receive $50,000 annually for up to four years to complete her post-baccalaureate.
The scholarship will cover tuition, books and living expenses.
Graham, who thought she was meeting with Contra Costa College President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh in her office in the Student and Administration Building on April 8 with other administrators, soon found out the gathering was scheduled to surprise her and celebrate her achievement.
“I feel so grateful,” Graham said with tears in her eyes.
“I am filled with so much joy because it has been so hard to get through these last few years. I am really starting to feel like I did do the right thing by coming back to school.”
As applause filled the room, Graham said she did not expect to receive the scholarship.
“People were saying, ‘you are going to get it,’ my close friends that is, even though it was very competitive. But I wanted to win it. I was afraid not to win it,” she said.
“This means so much. Somebody is appreciating what I am doing even if nobody else is.
“It’s been a hard road and I think people who go to this college are on a similar path. It’s very difficult at the community college level. Most of us don’t have money and might not have childcare. (They even) might be looking for a place to stay.”
The criteria to earn the scholarship includes being a student at an accredited two-year community college, planning to enroll in a baccalaureate program at an accredited four-year university by fall 2017, having a GPA of 3.5 or better, demonstrating financial need, and having not yet enrolled in or attended a four-year college.
“This is amazing,” Graham said. “I applied just to apply because it was a really big amount. I thought, ‘Why not just give it a shot?’”
Mehdizadeh said Graham not only won the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, but she also won the $10,000 Kennedy-King Memorial Scholarship and the Brandon Schnurr Memorial Scholarship for $500, the Associated Student Union Leadership Scholarship for $1,000 and the EOPS Transfer Scholarship (the amount is yet to be said).
“I promise to give back,” Graham said. “I plan on going to law school. I love everyone here, and I love kids. I want to fight for them. I want to fight for this college and those who are here that don’t have much.”
Graham said, “I know that I earned these scholarships with blood, sweat and tears. I do not believe in doing your best, because some days your best is not good enough.”
Graham said she wants to attend Stanford University, but is also waiting to hear back from UC Berkeley. As of now, she has been accepted to UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz.
EOPS counselor Julie Skoler said, “I am so excited for Sasha. I’m really happy that she’ll have the money to pay for college so she can continue to develop and not worry.”
Skoler wrote Graham a letter of recommendation to submit in her scholarship package.
She said, “I particularly wanted her to apply for scholarships. I just want to help students get money to pay for college. That’s a passion of mine.
“When I met her, her transcripts did not match her potential,” Skoler said.
“I could identify that Sasha had good communication and relationship skills because when I met Sasha she had strong connections with faculty.”
Skoler said Sasha shared her home situation with her professors.
“It is good to share what is going on with personal lives with teachers to keep them updated,” she said.
Graham is a single mother with a 9-year-old son, Armon. “I love my son,” she said. “I see how bad public education is, especially if we’re black. We come (to CCC), we have to start in remedial courses and we (don’t) get that robust education.”
CalWORKs/EOPS Program Manager George Mills said, “The minute I met Sasha I could tell that she was passionate about her community. For me, community is one of those things that is very important. Anytime I find someone who has an understanding and appreciation for community and is willing to advocate, not just for themselves, but for their community, I’m ready to (support) that person.”
Mills said, “Other than the fact that I had a minor panic attack, it was really, really exciting to find out (Graham) was chosen.”
Graham said she is thankful that she had the support she needed to find herself and her path to success.
“I do believe that to get what you deserve requires sacrifice, dedication and continuing to work at the highest level possible,” she said.