ST. PETERSBURG — One young woman lost both parents at the age of 7. Another was the daughter of a drug addict. An immigrant from Vietnam juggled learning English while taking care of her autistic sibling. And another student faced the daily battle of preserving her Ethiopian identity that was not always welcomed.
The four were named recipients of the 2017 Barnes Scholarship, an annual award sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times Fund named after Andrew Barnes, the former chairman and CEO of the newspaper's parent company, Times Publishing Co. The award, granted to high school seniors who have overcome significant adversity and achieved excellence, is worth up to $60,000 to pay for four years at an accredited college or university.
The winners will be recognized at a luncheon in April.
Here are their stories:
Kelvine Moyers was 5 when her family migrated to the United States from Rwanda. Two years later, her parents separated and entered a custody battle. Her father killed her mother, and while resisting arrest the next day, he was killed, too.
"In a two-day period, both of my parents were murdered," she wrote in her application essay. "In that moment I lost my innocence and became aware of the evils that roam the world."
She was adopted by a family friend, Nancy Moyers, and attends Mitchell High School in Pasco County. Moyers, who is in the top five in her class, works part time, has a 4.5 GPA, is a member of the National Honor Society, and has volunteered with Metropolitan Ministries, the Shepherd Center and several other organizations.
She is also editor in chief of the yearbook, where she has come to enjoy graphic design and hopes to study communications. Her first-choice college is the University of Miami, where she is waiting to hear about its financial aid award.
"It feels great that someone thinks I have potential and is willing to invest in my future," she said.
Multazem Oliver grew up creating her own sense of identity.
She looks like many African-American girls, she wrote, and she doesn't have an accent, but being Ethiopian is a large part of who she is that is often erased from the way the world sees her.
"Even my name has been stripped of its Ethiopianness because no one can pronounce it," Oliver, who goes by "Multy," wrote in her essay.
Oliver is co-president of the multicultural club and vice president of Student Council at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, in addition to being involved with several other extracurricular activities and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, CASA and other organizations. She has a GPA of 4.87 and said she seeks much of her strength from her mother, who was born in Addis Ababa.
"With all of the racism in the media it can be hard to be proud of who I am because some see me as a target for hateful comments," she wrote. "It's disappointing my parents still have to caution my brother against walking around our neighborhood alone, and that they have to make sure we agree with all law enforcement at all times just to be safe. So although it has been difficult to be surrounded by persistent hatred, I find strength in who I am and how I've been raised to guide me down the right path."
Oliver will attend Duke University where she will start on a prelaw track. She said she wants to focus on civil law and defending the rights of all people.
Hang Nguyen immigrated to the United States from Vietnam with her family at 11 without knowing English.
"Sitting in a classroom with absolutely no understanding of what was going on around me, all I could do was smile and hope that people would not approach and strike conversations," she wrote in her essay. "I spent countless nights praying that I, by some magical force, would wake up and be able to talk like a native and completely forget my Vietnamese."
She began reading kids books and forcing herself to interact with her classmates. She kept a notebook of things she wanted to learn and toted around a 5,000-page English-to-Vietnamese dictionary.
Nguyen, an International Baccalaureate student at Land O'Lakes High School in Pasco County, has a 4.778 GPA and is involved in multiple honor societies. She served in various leadership positions including vice president of Model U.N. and co-founded a women's rights club. She is also the primary caregiver of her nonverbal autistic brother in her family of six while her parents work extended hours. Her brother has driven her to want to become a medical researcher.
She was accepted to the University of Oklahoma, University of Florida and University of South Florida and is waiting to hear back from others.
Keylonnie Miller isn't ashamed of her background, she wrote in her application essay.
Her mother was a drug addict and criminal, she wrote, and her father was absent from her life. At 15 months old, the government put her in the care of her grandmother. Neither her brother nor sister finished high school.
"This is what society expects from people in my situation," she wrote. "I will not be marginalized or swept to the side."
Miller is an International Baccalaureate student at Strawberry Crest High in Hillsborough County with a 7.21 GPA. She volunteers at Burnett Middle School and the Red Cross.
"My dreams have been my biggest motivator, and I've been lucky to have my grandmother as a support system," she said.
Miller is waiting to hear back about the financial aid package from her first choice, the University of Michigan, where she hopes to study computer science and business. She said she hopes to one day work for a tech corporation that believes in giving back to the community.
"I am ambitious," she wrote in her essay. "Once I've set my mind to something, nothing will get in my way of achieving my end goal. I will go to college and I will graduate with a computer science degree. If all goes as planned, I will graduate with a master's degree and then continue on to law school. High expectations, I know. There is a high chance I won't succeed, however that tiny possibility that I will, keeps me going."
Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.