JCPS seniors surprised with $70k in scholarships

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Published: May. 19, 2023 at 2:29 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools Dr. Marty Pollio had a generous surprise for some students ahead of graduation day.

Seven seniors who have overcome obstacles to get to graduation day received a total of $70,000 from JCPS on Friday.

The scholarships were funded by donations from JCPS employees and community members, the release said.

Pollio surprised the students at their schools on Friday with the news that they would receive a scholarship to the college or university of their choice.

“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” Pollio said. “We get to help some deserving students, whose families may not have the means to afford college, realize their dream. These talented JCPS students are going to further their education and make a difference in the world. We couldn’t be prouder of them.”

Finalists for the scholarships had to write personal statements, prepare presentations outlining their plans and financial needs, and interview with Pollio and other JCPS administrators.

Scholarship recipients include:

  • Naira Abedi, Doss - $7,000

Doss was born in a small village in Uganda. She was often sick as a child and was hospitalized several times. Her family had limited access to healthcare and medicine, but the village doctor who helped her family inspired Doss to pursue her own career in medicine. She will attend Bellarmine University this fall.

  • Jonah Belance, Southern - $10,500

Belance grew up in a low-income, single-parent household and was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, JCPS said. Overcoming his early struggles in school, Belance is now an honor student and president of both the Black Student Union and the senior class at Southern High School. He’s won several awards for his community service, including the YMCA Youth Character Award, JCPS said. He plans to attend the University of Louisville and major in biomedical science.

  • Raven Brackens, Marion C. Moore - $10,500

Brackens’s passion for baking at an early age led her to start her own small business in elementary school. That same passion later led her to enroll at Marion C. Moore High School, where she is in the culinary program and recently competed in the national ProStart Invitational. At 4 years old, Brackens lost her mother to pancreatic cancer. She attributes her success to her maternal grandmother, her aunts and uncles. Brackens plans to attend the University of Kentucky in the fall and study food science.

  • Saif Al Khafaji, Waggener - $10,500

Khafaji is an Iraqi refugee who immigrated to the United States in 2021. He works full-time and is also the guardian of his two younger brothers, JCPS said. He has dreamed of being a pilot since he was 14 and has completed over 70 hours of flight training. Khafaji recently flew solo for the first time. He plans to attend Eastern Kentucky University to study aviation and obtain his commercial pilot license.

  • Tamiya King, Louisville Male - $10,500

King is a full-time dual-credit student at the University of Louisville. She will graduate with over 18 hours of college credit that she will be able to apply to next year at Western Kentucky University. King said she has always wanted to be an attorney and plans to attend the Brandeis School of Law after finishing her bachelor’s degree at WKU.

  • Ulises Vega Rabell, Doss - $10,500

Rabell immigrated to the United States from Cuba four years ago. Since then, JCPS said he has faced many obstacles like his parents’ divorce, acclimating to American culture and learning a new language. Rabell is a first-generation college student, who worked diligently to find help and resources to navigate the college application process. He plans to attend the University of Louisville and major in business administration.

  • Gia “Huy” Tran, Iroquois - $10,500

Tran came to the United States from Vietnam in eighth grade and is a first-generation college student. He is the valedictorian in his class with a 4.2 weighted grade point average and is a participant in the Aspire Higher program. JCPS said the program helped him through the college application process. He is passionate about the environment and plans to attend the University of Louisville to pursue a career in solar engineering.