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Gates Millennium Scholar Program

Full UC college scholarship awarded to Kennedy High student

on May 22, 2013

Kennedy High School senior Kelssie Sontay has a hero, and it’s not Wonder Woman. It’s Sontay’s dad, a man who she said didn’t get the opportunity to finish elementary school. Sontay recently won a full scholarship to UC Santa Cruz, and says her father was her inspiration. “He’s been my motivation for everything he went through in his childhood,” she said. Her father, she said, taught her that “it doesn’t matter what I have right now.”

Now, what the 17-year-old has is a big packet from the Gates Millennium Scholars Program declaring her a 2013 scholarship winner. The good-through-graduation scholarship is funded by a $1.6 billion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which selects 1,000 minority students each year to attend the college of their choice. Since the program’s inception in 1999, more than 10,000 scholars have completed their degree.

Sontay said when she applied for the scholarship she didn’t want to make a big deal about it because she didn’t think she was capable of winning such a large prize. But she applied anyway, and remembers the moment when her father handed her the immense envelope that came in response in the mail. “I started shaking because I was like, ‘Is this what it is? Why would it come in a big packet?’ she recalled. “And then I opened it and it read ‘Congratulations!’ so I screamed really loud and started crying.”

Her mother, who was washing dishes in the kitchen, heard the scream and ran into the living room, Sontay said. “What’s wrong?” her mother asked her as she still held the envelope crying. “You don’t get it!” she told her mother. “This is so big for me.” Sontay said once she calmed down and explained what was inside the envelope, her mom gave her a warm hug.

The Santa Cruz-bound students said she’s still uncertain what she wants to major in, but that it will be science-related.

Kennedy High counselor Finy Prak said scholarships are hard to come by at that campus because not many of the students are academically eligible to take the SAT test. Of the 171 seniors in this year’s senior class, only 30 have taken the test, she said. Of those 171 seniors, only 140 are scheduled to graduate.

Prak said teacher and faculty inconsistencies have hurt Kennedy’s academic achievement. “I’ve been here five years and have already worked with four different principals,” she said. “It’s really sad. It’s hard for us to create a stable environment for our students if we ourselves don’t have it.”

Sontay said she hopes her award will cast the school in a brighter light. “I know this school isn’t the best and that we have a really bad reputation,” she said. “And maybe we’re treated unfair because we don’t have a lot of things other schools do. But I think everyone at Kennedy has potential.”


  1. Luey Sanchez on May 23, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Congrats Kelssie 🙂

  2. Don Gosney on May 24, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    This is the kind of story that should make us all feel good.

    Congratulations, Kelssie. We all deserve something good in our lives and it sounds as though this scholarship is just a part of your bounty.

  3. Maria on May 30, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Congratulations mama i knew you could achieve your goals this is just the beggining of a lufe full of good things for you!! Love you mamas!!

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