While still in high school, one helped build a school in Haiti. Another produced a one-man show. Still another lives independently, supporting himself as a musician.
Their career goals span a wide spectrum of fields, from medicine to public policy to the arts. While still in high school, they worked, tutored or participated in academic and social service efforts in addition to excelling in their coursework. Several will be the first in their family to attend college.
And none could have done so without the help of the Berkeley Community Fund.
The Fund is a young but ambitious organization whose purpose is to craft a bridge to college for promising Berkeley students who otherwise could not get there.
Monday brought cause for celebration: Its first group of seven High Hopes scholarship winners, named in 2008, just graduated with bachelor’s degrees from a variety of colleges and universities. And, in a joyous gathering at the Berkeley City Club, family, friends, board members and donors feted a new group of scholarship winners – the largest so far, with 16 incoming freshmen.
The Fund does more than give students a financial edge, says director Laura Olivas. It provides one-on-one mentoring throughout each student’s college career.
For aspiring lawyer Zulma Munos, that was Yvonne Gonzales, who was just appointed to a seat on the U.S. District Court in Northern California.
“’Cal alumna’ are the most exhilarating two words to me,” Munos said Monday. “I couldn’t have graduated with the Berkeley Community Fund.”
She spoke of her rocky road through higher education. A talented Division 1 soccer player, she gave up the sport to help support her family.
A turning point in her life was watching helplessly as her brother was led away in handcuffs by Homeland Security officers. While she was considered a legal resident, his documentation did not pass muster. The impact on her was profound; she aims to specialize in immigration law.
“I encourage you to be hungry for your goals,” she advised the graduating seniors at Monday’s ceremony.
The scholarships of $4,000 a year does not pay for school in its entirety, but gives students “that margin where they don’t have to work while they would rather be studying,” said scholarship director and UC Berkeley general counsel Charles Robinson.
“A lot of our scholars who wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to a private school are matriculating to UCs," he said.
Courtney Knott, a newly minted graduate of the Berklee School of Music in Boston, treated the roomful to soaring vocals on an original tune and “Purple Rain” before sharing her own sometimes precarious experiences navigating college life.
“Thank you, High Hopes, for getting me through college,” she said. “All is good.”
Click through the photo gallery to see this year's scholarship winners.