Aaron Edwards thought the grim reaper was knocking on his door when he entered his guidance counselor’s office recently.
The look on Martha Asher’s face told him he was in a pickle.
Then, she smiled and handed Edwards a piece of paper that told the 17-year-old Eufaula High School student he had won a Gates Millennium Scholarship.
“At first, I was freaked out a little bit,” Edwards said. “Then I read the paper, and I’m pretty sure I knocked over a few chairs. But it was a good way to find out.”
Oklahoma students received the fifth-highest number of Gates Millennium Scholarships in the nation — and 15 of those are area students.
Sequoyah High School had the most Gates Scholars — six — but Oktaha, Hilldale, Fort Gibson, Tahlequah, Keys and Eufaula also boast winners of one of the most all-encompassing scholarships available.
And earning a Gates Millennium Scholarship is no simple feat.
“I think I wrote about nine essays,” said Summer Sanders, 18, from Sequoyah High School. “They want to find out who you are as a person; they want to know about your struggles in life and how you make the best of them.”
Sanders said she wrote about her goals, life experiences, leadership and more. But it was worth all the effort.
Having spent four years at Sequoyah High School away from home, Sanders plans to attend her first year of college at Rogers State University in Claremore close to family, she said.
Then she plans go to the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University and wants to go into the medical field.
She’ll be able to pay for her dreams without taking out thousands of dollars in student loans thanks to being a Gates Scholar.
Funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Millennium Scholarship seeks to grant access to higher education to African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American or Hispanic American students, according to www.gmsp.org.
The scholarship pays tuition, room and board, plus other fees for as long as the student remains in college.
That means a huge financial burden is lifted off the students and their families.
Ross Robbins, 18, of Keys High School said his parents were relieved by his big win.
Robbins wants to pursue a medical degree, he said, and possibly walk-on for a basketball team at the college he chooses.
“I was really excited to get it,” Robbins said. “But more excited for how it relieves the stress off my parents more than anything.”
Students who apply for the scholarship must have a minimum 3.3 GPA but also demonstrate leadership abilities through participation in community service, extracurricular, or other activities.
Amy Eller, a senior at Oktaha High School, also is a 2011 Gates Scholar. She plans to use her scholarship to attend the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, in the fall.
Two Fort Gibson students, Kaytlyn Gilliam, 17, and Forrest Kinney, 17, won scholarships as well.
Kinney, who plans to become a commercial airline pilot, said his grandparents are excited and relieved at the lifted burden of college tuition and expenses.
“My husband retired last summer we didn’t see how we could afford for him to go to college,” said his grandmother Phyllis Kinney. “So this was an answer. He’s really a tremendous kid.”
Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton @muskogeephoenix.com.
Eufaula High School
• Aaron Edwards, 17. Son of Glen Edwards.
Hilldale High School
• Fallon Carey, 18. Daughter of Titus Carey, Holly Easley and Deana Carey.
• Clark Gilford, 18. Son of Clark and Rochelle Gilford.
Tahlequah High School
• Alysta Medlock, 19. Daughter of Lana Medlock and John Medlock.
• Sam Campbell, 19. Son of Rhonda Carey and Allen Campbell.
Keys High School
• Ross Robbins, 18. Son of Ronald and Shelly Robbins.
Fort Gibson High School
• Kaytlyn Gilliam, 17. Daughter of Marcie and Brady Gilliam.
• Forrest Kinney, 17. Grandson of Mike and Phyllis Kinney.
Oktaha High School
• Amy Eller, 17. Daughter of Garry and Verletta Eller.
Sequoyah High School
• Summer Sanders, 18, of Tulsa. Daughter of Patrick Sanders.
• Casey Arnall, 18, of Shady Grove. Son of Bryan and Alicia Arnall.
• Martha Hardbarger, 18, of Marble City. Daughter of Thomas Hardbarger and Virna Williamson.
• Cori Sue Butcher, 18, of Marble City. Daughter of Monica and Jeff Flynn and Josh Butcher.
• Tara Comingdeer, 18, of Stilwell. Daughter of Karen Blackfox and David Comingdeeer.
• Laurin Keen, 18, of Peggs. Daughter of Charles and Vicky Keen.