Two Denton County high school seniors are no longer worried about how they’ll pay for college.
Cadie Hanes, a Lake Dallas High School senior, and Cosmas Opara, a Ryan High School senior, learned a couple of months ago they were among 1,000 students across the country named 2013 Gates Millennium Scholars.
The scholarship program, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, covers undergraduate college expenses through graduation for low-income minority students in the discipline of their choice.
Hanes, 18, said being selected a Gates Millennium Scholar is an answered prayer.
A member of the Cherokee Nation, she said she learned about the scholarship her freshman year in high school when a financial adviser with the nation suggested she apply.
“I just always kept it in the back of my mind to apply for it my senior year,” she said.
As an aide in the high school academic adviser’s office, Hanes said every time she saw information about a scholarship come through, she would “grab it and apply for it.”
She estimates she’s applied for 50 scholarships since last summer. Had she not received scholarship money, she intended to work to cover tuition and take out student loans.
“I applied for any and every scholarship I could get. Even though it was a long shot, God just told me to keep applying,” Hanes said. “I just kept thinking: I don’t want to get loans. I want to have my college paid for. I don’t want to worry about it.”
When she learned she had received the Gates scholarship, she said she wept. Together with loved ones, she cried, prayed and thanked God.
“It was like Christmas all over again,” Hanes said. “I still just can’t wrap my mind around it. It just feels like school’s second nature now that I don’t have to worry [about] paying for college.”
Cadie’s father, Michael, said it was like winning the lottery because his daughter had as good a chance as any other applicant who applied. It’s a huge gift, he said, and the family is humbled.
School officials at Lake Dallas High said Cadie deserved the scholarship.
“Anytime you get a ride like that, it takes your breath away,” Principal Kristi Strickland. “It did ours.”
Dona Lumsden, academic counselor at Lake Dallas High, said some students volunteer to have something on their resume, but helping others is just what Cadie does.
Lumsden, who has known Cadie since she was a fifth-grader, recommended her for the scholarship. She said it “overwhelms you with happiness” to see a young person receive a much-deserved scholarship and go on to use it to do good things.
Cadie Hanes graduated fourth in her class on Saturday. She intends to study speech language pathology with a minor in religion at Baylor University.
Opara said he went from not knowing how he would pay for college and thinking he would have to take out a loan to knowing “everything is going to be better than what I thought initially.”
He said he found information about the scholarship on the Internet and began to fill out the application in December. Opara, who is involved with the Upward Bound academic enrichment program at the University of North Texas, said a friend brought the scholarship back to his attention, and he completed the application in February.
He said he was motivated by Upward Bound directors who encouraged students to apply for scholarships and that until then, he had not received any scholarships. Even now, Opara said he continues to apply for scholarships.
“I kept telling myself that I had to get one,” Opara said.
The 17-year-old recalls he was sick the day news arrived that he was selected as a 2013 Gates Millennium Scholar. The quiet, soft-spoken student said it was a relief.
“I was pretty happy,” he said. “I remember my mom was as ... happy as I was.
“I remember my dad was calm ... but I’m sure he was as happy as everyone else.”
Damian Opara, Cosmas’ father, said it was wonderful news.
“It was something great,” he said. “It was something cheerful. We have to give thanks to God.”
Cosmas Opara was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and he and his family moved to Denton County when he was 11. He enrolled in Denton schools in eighth grade. He joined Upward Bound as a high school freshman.
Eva Silvia Lozano, Upward Bound assistant director of academic development at UNT, describes Cosmas as “an excellent student,” determined but quiet, and someone who doesn’t boast about his accomplishments. She said she only learned of his scholarship in passing while talking with him, and she was shocked he’d never mentioned it before.
“I don’t know if he realized how big of a scholarship this was,” Lozano said. “I’m very proud of him. I’m very proud and very happy because I know he works very hard.”
Cosmas Opara, who graduates from Ryan High today, plans to study computer science at UNT.
The Gates Millennium Scholars Program has been funded since 1999 with a $1.6 billion grant from the Gates Foundation. One thousand scholarships are awarded each year to African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander American and Hispanic American students with significant financial need.
The scholarship is good through graduation, and students who choose to continue studies in computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health and science after receiving their bachelor’s degrees can request funds to support graduate studies.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.