PARIS — Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School senior Katherine Haley has good reason to smile as she makes plans for life after graduation next spring. She is one of 106 students recently awarded a $25,000 college scholarship from the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, a non-profit educational organization that honors the achievements of outstanding individuals in the face of great adversity.
The association received more than 36,000 scholarship applications from across the country. Recipients come from families with average income of $17,675 per year and maintain an average GPA of 3.84.
“I was extremely surprised,” said Haley, reflecting on her achievement. “I thought it was possible to receive a state scholarship. Not likely but possible.
“But I was completely shocked to receive the national scholarship because I didn’t think that the hardships I faced and my achievements were that much when compared to the rest of the country.”
Modesty aside, Haley is a shining example of the type of student the Horatio Alger Association seeks to honor. It was her Upward Bound counselor who suggested she apply for the scholarship. Applicants are considered based on their experiences in the face of adversity, academic performance, school activities and community involvement.
“My counselor suggested it because a big part is adversity,” said Haley. “I’ve faced that, growing up in an abusive environment. And my grandfather and my uncle both died recently. They ask a lot about those challenges.
“Academic-wise I’ve been a really good student all through high school and I’ve been really involved in school activities. I am in in the drama program, I have the lead in our show. I also played field hockey throughout high school. I’m in national honor society and other academic clubs.”
Haley didn’t know her grandfather well until the last few years, as he lived in Florida when she was younger. But since he returned to Maine the two began to grow closer. He died after a long illness.
“His death was really hard on me,” Haley said. “I had to push through, remembering what he’d want for me, to focus on my future while still honoring him. Then my uncle died suddenly, and he had always been someone I really looked up to.”
But the biggest adversity Haley wrote about in her application was about growing up in an abusive environment, something she only recently changed by moving in with her maternal grandparents.
“I’ve always pushed through my adversity by focusing on school,” said Haley. “I found solace in that when I was young. Eventually it got to a point that we couldn’t be in silence about it anymore and I moved in with my grandparents. Living with them is a much more stable and caring environment. I have a good relationship with both my parents but it’s much better living with my grandparents.”
Haley is enrolled in honors and advanced placement classes, including college calculus. Her favorite class is English and she really enjoys writing. She also likes math a lot which she says is a little weird since most people prefer one over the other.
“I’ve always found my worth in my school work,” Haley explained. “It’s where I felt successful and appreciated. It has helped me foster the habits I need to do well. School has always been a place of reward and the way to get out and start my own life – by working hard in school I could get to college.”
In addition to using education to help build her resilience, Haley also credits her faith. She has attended Bethel Alliance Church throughout her life, first with her grandmother and now her mother, and it has played a major role in her self-confidence and future plans.
“Growing up I found it hard to talk to my family about my problems,” said Haley. “Especially since middle school and through high school, I’ve grown very close to my church family. They helped me grow my faith in Jesus. That’s what got me through, remembering that it was in his hands and not mine. I don’t have as much worry about my future as I would without my faith.
“I know that without my church I would not have faced my adversities as well as I did. I want to be able to give that to other kids. I plan to go to a Christian college and major in youth ministry. School and my faith are really what played roles to help me fight through to get to where I am today. ”
Haley has been accepted by four colleges: Gordon College in Wenham, MA., Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA., Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa Falls, GA., and Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA. She has not made a final decision which to attend. She plans to study youth ministry with a concentration in outdoor leadership; her ultimate goal is to be a camp director.
“Nature has always been a calming place for me. I like the challenges it exposes me to,” Haley said. “We took a backpacking trip through Grafton Notch last year. It was challenging mentally and physically but the reward at the end was so great. We saw this beautiful sunrise.
“To me, nature creation is an example of God’s grace. It reminds me not to worry. If God provides for birds and sparrows and if we’re greater than them, why should we be afraid he won’t provide for us? It’s a reminder for me not to worry.”
In April Haley will attend the Horacio Alger Association of Distinguished Scholars’ annual conference to meet this year’s other 105 winners and association members who fund the scholarship. Its members include business and civic leaders and celebrities like Rob Lowe, Jane Seymour and Reba McEntire. She is especially excited about meeting McEntire.
“Part of the application was an essay about how you relate to one of their members,” said Haley. “I wrote mine about Reba. She was one of my top picks. I love Reba!”
And once she graduates from OHCHS after that, Haley is ready for her next chapter.
I’m really looking forward to college,” she said. “It’s the whole point of what I’ve been working through my adversity to reach. To start anew, kind of create my own life for myself and learn from the mistakes I’ve witnessed. I’m excited to get a fresh start.”
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