Scholarship recipient looks to make help community
By ALLISON PRIES
May. 15, 2018
ORANGE, N.J. (AP) — The $22,650 she just won will take Jenny Rodriguez far from her New Jersey home. But the high school senior says she doesn't see the hefty scholarship -- which she won from a pool of more than 15,000 applicants nationwide -- as a ticket out. Instead, it's chance for her to do more good for her hometown of Orange, she says.
Rodriguez, whose family is from Ecuador, has grown up in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood where people are fearful of immigration policies and feel like they don't belong in this country, she said.
"Seeing that first hand, how people feel like they don't have a voice",'' Rodriguez said. "I have the privilege of having this voice and having this support system that tells me I can make a difference ... I can be that person for them."
Rodriguez was selected as the winner of a $22,650 scholarship from the National Honor Society. The award was presented last month in a surprise gathering at Orange High School that drew leaders from the Virginia headquarters of the National Honor Society and National Association of Secondary School Principals, which formed the NHS in 1921.
The NHS awards scholarship for $2,850 to 475 national semi-finalists; $5,150 scholarships to 24 national finalists and just one $22,650 scholarship to a national winner.
The judges chose Rodriguez after deliberating for four hours among the finalists, in part, because of her commitment to her hometown.
"Her vision is not to be a lone voice for change, but to learn all she can about politics and law and then empower her neighbors to be their own voices for change," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the NASSP, at the award presentation.
The scholarship came after a hard night of weighing her top two college choices -- her dream school, American University, and a less expensive runner up. The scholarship has allowed her to choose American, where she plans to study political science.
"Jenny is a tenacious, goal-oriented, driven leader," said Jada Gore, Rodriguez's school counselor. "She's amazing."
Rodriguez's ultimate goal is to work in Washington D.C. as a chief of staff or to manage a political campaign. And at just 18-years-old, she already has a document where she jots down things she wants to accomplish when she enters the world of politics.
"Those jobs hold so much power to do so much good," Rodriguez said.
She, herself, is a first-generation American whose mother always encouraged her to study hard so she could get "becas" -- the Spanish word for scholarships.
"She was always this voice in my ear," said Rodriguez, the middle child of three in her family.
Her parents, who own a laundromat, struggle with English. So it was up to Rodriguez to navigate her way through her studies.
Now, among a long list of activities she's involved in, Rodriguez tutors other students whose parents don't speak English, and helps families enroll their children in school or navigate through paperwork.
"Jenny has a very humble spirit and it comes across very clearly in all the times when she's asked to do something or not even asked to do something," said Marcey Thomas, the Orange High School National Honors Society advisor and Rodriguez's AP English teacher. "She steps up to the plate ... whether she's in the spot light or she is behind the scenes."
For fun, Rodriguez reads the news and researches topics that she wants to learn more about -- homelessness and affirmative action are two examples.
"Seeing what works, what doesn't, how it affects people and what's best for the country," Rodriguez said.
Moving away from Orange is going to be hard, she said, but she won't ever desert her hometown.
"Orange has developed me into who I am, so I can't just reap the benefits and then use the skills that I've learned ... somewhere else without coming back home," she said. "Maybe not coming back to live here, but putting in place policies and solutions that can be implemented back in Orange."
Information from: NJ Advance Media.