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Local students getting Golden LEAF scholarships

Though their journey into adulthood is just beginning, students in Surry County already have struck gold by being selected to receive scholarships potentially totaling $14,000.

The eight recipients involved are among 215 rural North Carolina students overall who were tapped for academic aid from the Golden LEAF Foundation based in Rocky Mount. Those students, double the number locally who received that assistance in 2021, were selected out of a pool of more than 1,600 applicants.

Recently graduated high school seniors entering college as first-year students are each eligible for a $3,500 Golden LEAF Scholarship annually for up to four years of undergraduate study at a participating four-year North Carolina college or university. Community college transfer students are eligible for $3,500 a year for up to three years of undergraduate study.

The local scholarship winners include Michelle Bedolla-Villalobos of Surry Early College High School, who will be attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Haley Chilton, an East Surry High School graduate bound for N.C. State University; Victoria Griffin of Surry Early College High School of Design, who will attend UNC-Chapel Hill; Alberto Hernandez of Surry Early College High School, headed for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte;

Also, Meaghan Pell of Forsyth Technical Community College, who will attend Appalachian State University; Sebastian Sanchez-Aguilar, a recent Surry Central High School graduate bound for N.C. State University; Dante Watson, another Surry Central student who will continue her studies at N.C. State; and Christopher White, a Surry Early College High School of Design graduate who’ll also do so at N.C. State.

The Golden LEAF Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1999 to receive a portion of North Carolina’s funding from a 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with cigarette manufacturers.

Its mission has included working worked to increase economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities through leadership in grantmaking, collaboration, innovation and stewardship as an independent and perpetual foundation.

The Golden LEAF Foundation established the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program to broaden educational opportunities and provide support to students from rural counties with the goal that after graduation recipients will return and contribute back to those communities. The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA) administers the program and selects students for awards.

Scholarship recipients from rural, tobacco-dependent or economically distressed North Carolina counties are chosen based on career and educational goals, a review of school and community service activities, academic performance, length of residence in the county and expressed intent to contribute to the state’s rural communities upon graduation from college.

“My sincerest congratulations to Michelle, Haley, Victoria, Alberto, Meaghan, Sebastian, Dante and Christopher for earning this award,” state Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy said in a statement. “I’m sure you will put in the hard work to help you accomplish your goals — we need students like you to help our rural communities thrive.”

“Congratulations to the students from Surry County for receiving this award,” state Rep. Kyle Hall, whose 91st House District includes it along with Stokes and Rockingham counties, said in a statement.

The students tapped for scholarships “have already demonstrated leadership and strong academic performance,” Hall added. “Receiving a Golden LEAF Scholarship is a great honor and these students should be proud of their accomplishment.”

“We are proud to award scholarships to hardworking and bright students with deep roots in their rural communities,” stated Scott T. Hamilton, Golden LEAF Foundation president and chief executive officer.

“We look forward to the future success of these scholarship recipients as they follow their educational pursuits and develop into North Carolina’s next generation of rural leaders.”

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