Our 2024 scholarship is officially open and taking applications! You can see our 2023 winners, as well as all past winners, here.
The Honors Graduation scholarship program is specifically for graduating high school teens with the intention of attending a college, university, or trade school the following school year. Our scholarship platform is project-based, with building a better future for your own community at the center of it.
Our scholarship becomes increasingly competitive each year, and our winners are submitting better community projects each time. So what exactly are we looking for in our 2024 scholarship applicants?
Community-Based Projects: Projects that directly impact and influence the immediate community and better the people and environment.
Community-Driven Students: We’re looking for students active in their community and students driven to see it grow, change, and better.
Students that Care: We are seeking out students who care about their community, their project, and the people they are serving.
Students Fighting for a Change: Anyone can look around and see a problem. They might even have a way to solve the problem. We’re looking for problem solvers. The students who not only see the problem and come up with the solution but also act on it, too. The students that are fighting for a change.
We cannot wait for the 2024 applications to be submitted next spring so we can read more about the problems teens see in their communities and their ideas and actions to alleviate those issues. Together we truly can build a better future!
Our 2023 scholarship season has come to a close. The applications we received absolutely blew us away and choosing our final 5 winners was harder than ever. We are constantly inspired by our scholarship applicants and the ways they better their communities.
Our 2024 scholarship is NOW LIVE. This means you can read the rules and submit a feedback form, as well as your final application (although, I would recommend holding off on your final application until the due date is closer!)
If you know of a graduating high school senior, would you please send them the link to our 2024 Build a Better Future Scholarship? All seniors deserve to know about this application and anyone sharing on their social media or through word of mouth always helps us reach those that need to see it.
As always, our email is open for any questions or feedback. Do not hesitate to reach out!
We’re also well on our way to bringing you the 2024 Build a Better Future scholarship! Once the updated scholarship has been successfully published and is live, we’ll let you know so that you can send the scholarship application to your favorite 2024 graduating high school senior.
Thank you to all of the 2023 scholarship winners for building a better future.
Meet our top scholarship recipient, Jalen Coleman. Not only did Jalen receive a $10,000 scholarship towards college tuition, but he also received a $5,000 grant for his organization Outside J’s Sunday Fundays. Jalen saw a need within the parks and rec department within his city and worked hand in hand with them to bring new basketball courts and tournaments to their community. He writes,
“The game of basketball belongs to everyone. If you have a ball and a hoop, you have a game. Unfortunately, the sport of basketball for kids has been privatized and commercialized into a pay-for-play model, where travel, cost, and fees are required before kids ever get to see the ball go through the basket. This has created a demand for gym space, coaches, players, playing time, and winning which has caused the stakes to rise, and the culture of sports to become hyper-competitive. I seek to return the game to its roots. We invite all skill levels, youth ages, and genders to play at newly refurbished courts for FREE. Outside J allows all who want to hoop, the ability to hoop without the hyper-competitive, money-driven baggage that comes with sports.”
Jalen worked to inspire many in his community. During a phone interview we held with him he spoke of his passion for the game and for creating an inclusive environment for everyone to be a part of. He commented that his least favorite part was the work it took to take everything down and clean up, but it was always all worth it to watch the entire event come together and see everyone having a good time. Jalen also writes,
“I am a lover of the game of basketball, and I REALLY like playing pickup basketball at outdoor basketball courts. I realize that in this technology-based, travel sports era, that many youths are not participating in sports in a free-play environment. Travel sports requires money, time, transportation, and fees that eliminates a lot of the youth that need to play the most. I decided to combine my love for sports, and my love for community, by creating Outside J, during the Covid-19 Lockdown. I connected with my city parks and rec department, my local schools and churches, to create a website, and prepare for quarterly events that are FREE for youth in our community.”
Our team at HonorsGradU has been so impressed with Jalen and his commitment to helping his city for the better. Jalen has more free events he’s working on in the future and plans to attend college in the fall as well.
Meet Gitanjali Rao, a researcher, innovator, inventor, and teacher. Gitanjali has been given opportunities to spend time on STEM projects but recognized that not all students have this opportunity, so she set out to change this by creating an outreach program and writing and publishing a book in hopes of “finding the hundreds of other Gitanjali’s out there” as she puts it. She writes,
“Today’s education around the world focuses on core skills but doesn’t train students in connecting concepts across disciplines, ideation, and solutions, critical skills that are needed to solve problems of tomorrow. I have found through my experience, children in schools, when trained right, explore ideas better and are not bound by constraints. Also, many of today’s problems, from climate change to privacy, are going to directly affect children when they grow up. It is only logical that they are part of the solution. Hence, I’d like to develop a K-12 curriculum that simplifies the methods and tools of ideation, with the right reward system, so that innovation becomes a learning experience and students can be free to imagine solutions for today’s urgent problems. I see a need to create an innovation movement among school students across the globe, where ideation, innovation, and problem-solving are not limited to science fairs and privileged schools, but are a part of the regular curriculum. I have covered some distance in my journey, but still have a long path ahead, as I build my own skills in research and problem-solving.”
Gitanjali saw a problem not only in her community, but around our globe, and has taken it upon herself to make a change.
“My work broadly involves 2 main areas, research/innovation, & educational outreach. They are symbiotic and complement each other to achieve the end goal of developing my solution. Within my research initiative, I have developed a few products such as a patented lead detection in water, early diagnosis of prescription opioid addiction, and launched an anti-cyberbullying technology service in partnership with UNICEF. While working on these, I developed a process to take a solution from an idea to reality, that is proven and repeatable. In the spirit of developing a community of innovators, I started sharing this with my community peers and received excellent feedback. A peer student-led session proved to be effective in environments across the globe. The workshop supplemented any efforts to introduce innovation and social empathy earlier in a student’s education. I started with 10-12 students and slowly expanded it to 300 students per session. Today I conduct about 3-5 sessions a week with about 200 students weekly. I take feedback on them and have been continuously improving the interactive nature of the sessions so that at the end of it, the students have an idea, solution, and a process with them to refine on their own.”
Gitanjali is building a better future before our own eyes, and bringing others along with her to do the same. We were honored to name her one of our 2023 Build a Better Future Scholarship recipients and we are excited to see where her future endeavors take her.
I know I say this every year, but this year’s winners were especially hard to choose because the quantity and quality of submissions we received were incredible. Our team spent two full weeks discussing each and every application, calling references, hearing these kids’ stories from the teacher’s perspectives, and verifying information. It was hard to make the final decision on our top five winners, but alas, we were all able to agree on who should receive the $10,000 college tuition money.
So without further ado, meet our 2023 scholarship winners!
Jalen Coleman: Jalen is our top winner and will receive $5,000 in grant money to further his project. He worked with his city and sponsors to refurbish basketball courts and host tournaments for kids to play in at no cost to the player. He writes,
“The game of basketball belongs to everyone. If you have a ball and a hoop, you have a game. Unfortunately, the sport of basketball for kids has been privatized and commercialized into pay for play model, where travel, cost, and fees are required before kids ever get to see the ball go through the basket. This has created a demand for gym space, coaches, players, playing time, and winning which has caused the stakes to raise, and the culture of sports to become hyper-competitive. I seek to return the game to its roots. We invite all skill levels, youth ages, and genders to play at newly refurbished courts for FREE. Outside J allows all who want to hoop, the ability to hoop without the hyper-competitive, money-driven baggage that comes with sports.”
Austin Picinich: He was set out to help the salmon spawning in Juanita Creek by designing and carrying out the painting of multiple murals around Washington. He writes,
“My goal was to not just create a mural that’s nice to look at – but a mural that teaches my community to protect salmon, and engages my community in creating it. I truly wanted to involve the entire community. I developed a unique “Community Paint Day” format that was interactive and educational. I first designed, outlined, and color-coded my salmon-themed design onto the blank wall in advance. Then, in April 2022, I hosted a Community Paint Day leading 170+ volunteers, ages 4 to 74, to “paint-by-number” my design – transforming the 112-foot wall into a vibrant mural.
Gitanjali Rao: She is a innovator that not only works on research projects, but also adopted an educational outreach program. She writes,
“My work broadly involves 2 main areas, research/innovation, & educational outreach. They are symbiotic and complement each other to achieve the end goal of developing my solution. Within my research initiative, I have developed few products such as a patented lead detection in water, early diagnosis of prescription opioid addiction and launched an anti-cyberbullying technology service in partnership with UNICEF. While working on these, I developed a process to take a solution from an idea to reality, that is proven and repeatable. In the spirit of developing a community of innovators, I started sharing this with my community peers and received excellent feedback. A peer student-led session proved to be effective in environments across the globe. The workshop supplemented any efforts to introduce innovation and social empathy earlier in a student’s education. I started with 10-12 students and slowly expanded it to 300 students per session. Today I conduct about 3-5 sessions a week with about 200 students weekly. I take feedback on them and have been continuously improving the interactive nature of the sessions so that at the end of it, the students have an idea, solution and a process with them to refine on their own.”
Victor Caceres: He was inspired to remodel his town’s food pantry. He writes,
“My project is to renovate and refurbish Martha’s Pantry at my local perish of St. Bridget of Sweden Catholic Church. Saint Bridgets has been my local parish and I know the community very well. Along with that, St. Bridgets is also where my troop meets. I believe my project will help the community by providing an adequate space to distribute perishable and non-perishable food and goods for free to many of the less fortunate in the area. I believe my project will not only benefit the church community at St. Bridgets, but many of the people who live in the Van Nuys area, especially the elderly who frequent Martha’s Pantry throughout the year for their food and goods.”
Fiona Lu and Esther Lau: These two girls have set their eyes on politics to change laws to better their low-income community (among other bills they have been working hard to pass!) and they are working to promote low-income youth to get involved with legislate processes as well. They write,
“Basic Needs Now bridges the gap between the large number of low-income and impoverished youth and their low level of engagement in advocacy. We do this in two ways: policy advocacy and grassroots advocacy. Through policy advocacy, we hope to provide opportunities for low-income youth to participate in bills that support access to basic needs, whether that’s through proposing policies, pushing them through the legislature, or other forms of involvement. At the same time, we’ll hone in on on-the-ground work by creating a chapter infrastructure that mobilizes youth nationwide to form strong connections with their local communities in need. We’re changing the advocacy landscape by giving a platform to low-income youth to fight for issues that affect themselves, while existing organizations often fail to represent our particular community. Moreover, our simultaneous emphasis on both top-down and bottom-up approaches to engage and prioritize impacted communities sets us apart. By working with and building upon the strong network of legislative trailblazers and pioneering advocates we’ve created in the past year through SB 260, California’s Menstrual Equity Act of 2023, we’re excited to uplift the voices of our own community, empowering youth like ourselves to join the movement for economic justice.”
When I attended college, I had a friend tell me about a scholarship for sophomore students that I qualified for. She was part of the scholarship committee and gave me some insight into what exactly they were looking for in a scholarship applicant, so I had a really good chance at winning.
I put in the work and applied, but ultimately, was denied.
I was devastated. Why wouldn’t they choose me? If only a few people had applied and there were multiple winners, why wasn’t my application chosen? It was a really good scholarship application! I felt like they hadn’t even read what I had submitted or cared about the work I put into it.
Fast forward several years later and I become the scholarship chairperson for Honors Graduation. It was exciting that I could be behind the scenes of a scholarship and have the opportunity to choose the winners! Little did I know what emotions were in store for me.
Each year I read through so many scholarship applications and in the end I can only choose five. Five winners out of all of the applications we receive.
What I didn’t realize when I applied for a scholarship of my own several years ago was how emotionally intensive it would be to read through so many hardworking, deserving students’ work and have to deny the majority of them. I’m sure when I applied for my scholarship years ago, I wasn’t actually “just another applicant” that they disregarded. Instead, I think my application was one that they poured over, read and re-read, discussed, and came to the conclusion that the scholarship wasn’t for me.
Because I’ve been in those shoes now, doing the exact same thing with our scholarship applicants.
Over the next two weeks, my time will be filled with reading and re-reading applications over and over and over until I nearly have them memorized. It’ll be time spent calling the applicant’s references to verify projects and hear what stellar and incredible students they are. My time will be spent building a bond with each of these students and their projects, just to have to make the hard decision at the end on which applicants are the top five and deserve the scholarship money.
So when that hard rejection email hits your inbox, just know that it’s hard on our end to choose the winners, too. I’ve been on that end of rejection, and it hurts. But maybe it feels a little better to know that your application wasn’t thrown in the reject pile, but read over and over and appreciated, even if you didn’t win.