Pinch of Salt Graphic (English)

I have the privilege to be part of the scholarship committee for the Long Beach Grand Prix Foundation.

Lots of organizations in Long Beach give scholarships — we are a giving community. I kind of like ours, not just because I'm on the board, but because the money goes to the kids, not the college. The logic is, if they're mature enough to succeed in higher education, they're mature enough to handle their own money.

But I'm not trying to start a "mine is better than yours" argument here. I'd rather talk about the young scholars.

This year, we received about 45 applications for seven $1,500 scholarships. Reading those applications gives me a little insight into at least a portion of the high school landscape

Here are a few things I observed.

Ours is an incredibly diverse city. I know the statistics — 72 percent or so of our population are ethnically people of color. (I hate that term, but short of listing every ethnicity except caucasian, I don't know what else to use. Non-white is even more negative.)

That reality was really evident in this year's applications. And there were lots of second-generation Americans, too. Long Beach embraces immigrants.

Far too many families are financially strapped. Sure, the sample is skewed since these are teens looking for help to go to school, but still.

There seems to be a few recurring reasons for the financial troubles. The most concerning, at least to me, are the families devastated by bills resulting from serious medical issues. On top of the incredible costs they face, loss of income makes it doubly difficult.

Divorce and single-parent households continue to be common as well. Several students talked about the stress related to domestic strife and how it made studies harder. There's also the financial ramifications.

The other side of that coin is several applicants cited a desire to make it easier on a parent or making that parent proud as a primary motivating factor to do well in school and make it through college.

Again, the sample is skewed, but that's the thing that never ceases to amaze me — the way these teens overcome so many obstacles to excel in high school and have every expectation to earn a degree, or two, or three. It can be hard to fathom.

Of those 45 applications, there might have been four with a grade point average of less than 4.0. Every single one had an Advanced Placement (AP) class on their transcript and most had taken several (and earned As).

There's more. A fair share of the applicants participate in multiple extracurricular activities, usually in a leadership role. A few have launched their own nonprofits, and at least three are star athletes.

Combine all of these traits, and we're talking true super heroes in the world of Long Beach teenagers. As clichéd as it is, these really are the leaders of tomorrow.

I wish we could give every single one of these young adults a scholarship or some other assistance in their quest to succeed. They deserve it.

Every year, I come away from this process with a mixture of despair and hope. I'm despondent over the situation so many of our youth find themselves in. But I'm truly hopeful for the future when I see how resilient, how determined at least the best show themselves to be.

If there is hope for the future, it rests with them. Fight on, my young friends.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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