Scholarship Rewards Struggle and Grit

“To make a long story short, my mother always had a gambling addiction which affected my family in every way you can imagine,” said Tony Truong, a student at Mt. Eden High School and a student in the Students Rise Above (SRA) program. SRA is a program dedicated to supporting “low-income, first-generation college students who have demonstrated a deep commitment to education and strength of character in overcoming tremendous odds of poverty, homelessness and neglect,” said Rose Allen, a College and Career advisor at SRA.

“The family dynamics [were] extremely affected. Because of her gambling addiction and our financial situation, I would experience weekly violent fights between my parents.” Truong’s parents were never home, and his mom was always at the casino while his dad was working. Because of this, Truong had to “become the parent,” not only for himself, but for his younger brother as well. Truong heard about SRA through his physiology teacher and a friend who was also applying to the program. When he applied to SRA, he knew very little about it. “To be honest, I applied because I thought it was a scholarship program that would give me lots of money,” he said. “[Overtime], I found the program to provide many amazing benefits.”

Briseida Ayala Rodriguez is also a Mt. Eden student in the SRA program. “With both of my parents not working, and Social Security sending us around $1,000 a month … I saw my parents worry about how they would support a family of six,” said Rodriguez. “As the oldest, I felt it was my responsibility to show my family we could overcome this. I told myself ‘I will be the best student I can be.’ I studied and excelled in all of my classes and I joined sports. I joined clubs and programs as well, to make authentic change … and I joined SRA to keep me thriving!”

She added, “This scholarship is so important because it creates a community for you to go to whenever you need help in school, or simply someone to talk to.”

Students Rising Above was started 21 years ago as a scholarship by local Bay Area news anchor, Wendy Tokuda. “[SRA was] started to support high school seniors who were going off to college, and to support, connect, and highlight these young people who were overcoming these enormous odds and somewhat difficult backgrounds, and who were still getting into four-year universities and really good schools,” said Allen.

The financial aspect of the scholarship is only a little part of it. SRA is a “comprehensive program, where we give mentorship, access to career development resources, and support with the whole complicated process of applying to college,” said Allen.

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