Muscogee County student surprised with $40,000 scholarship at school assembly

This story was originally published by the Ledger-Enquirer.

Hardaway High School senior E’lyssia Brown was awarded a $40,000 college scholarship in a surprise announcement last Thursday.

The stunned E’lyssia collected herself after the ceremony and said, “It felt like winning a car from a game show.”

The setup for the surprise started with an assembly for students in grades 10-12 in the Hardaway auditorium. A representative from the College Board gave a presentation about its BigFuture program.

The College Board is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in New York. It’s most known for administering the SAT college admissions test and the Advanced Placement courses for high school students to earn college credit. BigFuture is the College Board’s online tool that helps high school students explore and prepare career plans.

Credit: Mike Haskey

Credit: Mike Haskey

For registered students, BigFuture rewards steps they take in the free program by giving them entries into drawings for scholarships. Every month, BigFuture awards hundreds of $500 scholarships and two $40,000 scholarships that can be used at any two- or four-year institutions accredited by the U.S. Department of Education to participate in federal student aid programs.

Students on track to graduate from high school in 2023, 2024 or 2025 are eligible for the scholarships. They must have a College Board account and attend a public or private high school or be enrolled in a home-school program in the United States or any U.S. territory or attend a Department of Defense Education Activity school.

Family income isn’t a factor in eligibility, but at least half of the scholarships are designated for students whose families earn less than $60,000 per year or for those who attend a high school where at least 75% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. These students get an extra entry in the monthly drawings each time they complete a BigFuture step. Those steps are:

  • Build your college list by finding those that interest you before June 30 in your junior year.
  • Strengthen your college list by ensuring its has a mix of reach, match and safety schools before Oct. 31 in your senior year.
  • Start your career list by exploring those that match your interests before the end of February in your senior year.
  • Start your scholarship list by finding scholarships that help pay for college before the end of February in your senior year.
  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid before the end of February in your senior year.
  • Apply to colleges before the end of February in your senior year.

Leading up to the award

During the Hardaway assembly, Penny Damianeas, the College Board’s state and district partnerships director, told the audience, “There’s one person that I know has been on the BigFuture site, and I want you to hear from her. So is E’lyssia here?”

E’lyssia joined Damianeas on stage and told her fellow students the website helped her learn about the college application process.

Damianeas then told her, “I have a surprise for you. You won forty-thousand…”

The eruption of cheers drowned out the rest of her sentence. Hardaway principal Maudrice McNeill presented E’lyssia with a sign celebrating her scholarship as her mother and other supporters joined her on stage for a photo op.

ExploreCobb high school student earns $40,000 scholarship

E’lyssia wants to attend Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida, and become a psychologist. The scholarship will help ease the financial burden.

“Actually be able to do things, get my books, get my courses,” she said. “It will take off us having to pay out of our pocket and then us coming short in the future when we have to pay student debt.”

E’lyssia’s extracurricular activities include cheerleading, shot put and soccer team manager. Seeing “different types of people” while working in her part-time job at Sonic sparked her interest in psychology, she said.

“I started breaking down my customers and seeing how they acted,” E’lyssia said. “It made me want to be interested in talking to people and caring for them and knowing what’s going on mentally. So, I would like to discover what’s going on with that and try to solve some of their problems.”

E’lyssia learned about Keiser through the BigFuture website when she searched for colleges noted for their psychology and business programs and located in Florida, to be closer to her father.

Her mother, retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Carlus Brown, attended the assembly. McNeill invited her by saying E’lyssia would be given an award.

“I actually thought it was a school award,” Brown said.

When she saw her daughter win the scholarship, she said, “I completely forgot about my knee having surgery. Thank the Lord.”

Brown said she is proud of E’lyssia for taking the steps she needs to get into college and help pay for it.

“It’s beyond believable,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about her doing this, as far as putting in for scholarships and stuff like that. So, for her to follow my footsteps as well as her dad’s footsteps, that’s A-plus for us.”


Credit: Ledger-Enquirer

Credit: Ledger-Enquirer

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