March 07, 2012 - Young people who've got the potential to attend college, but don't believe they can due to financial issues, personal problems or other obstacles should take heed of Alexis L. Lenderman's example.
Alexis Lenderman (click for larger version)
The 18-year-old former Oxford resident is the proud recipient of a $20,000 scholarship from the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.
"I'm really grateful for this scholarship," said Lenderman, who now lives in Lake Orion and is a senior at Rochester High School. "It means a lot to me. When I got the phone call, I couldn't believe it. I started crying."
A total of 104 high school students across the nation were selected as Horatio Alger National Scholarship recipients this year. Only three students are from Michigan.
Founded in 1947 and based in Washington D.C., the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans (www.horatioalger.org) celebrates those individuals in society whose determination and hard work enabled them to overcome life's obstacles to achieve success.
Horatio Alger (1832-99) was a prolific and popular writer of dime novels for boys in the 19th century. The main characters were typically young street urchins living in large cities like Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Endowed with uncommon courage and moral fortitude, the protagonists in Alger's stories struggled against adversity to achieve great wealth and acclaim.
Each year, the association bearing this author's name disburses more than $7 million in scholarships to high school students who have demonstrated courage in overcoming personal obstacles to achieve academic success.
Lenderman is no stranger to personal obstacles. Her mother committed suicide in 2001. Then at the age of 13, she entered foster care after her father went to prison.
Fortunately, she was eventually placed with a good family in Oxford, who loved and supported her. That family was Brian and Kim Switalski.
When they recently moved to Kalamazoo, her foster parents didn't wish to uproot Lenderman, so she's living with her foster mother's parents, Gerry and Rosemary Brooks, in Lake Orion. "They wanted to keep me in the family," she said. "They're the closest family I've ever had."
Thanks to Lenderman's perseverance, her foster family's love and the support she's received from longtime boyfriend Detwan Williams and godmother Beverly Ross, she's thrived at Rochester High School.
She has a grade point average of 3.67 and is a member of both the Business Professionals of America and the National Honor Society. She also ran track for three years.
In addition to school, Lenderman currently works 17 to 20 hours per week at Abacus Accounting (399 S. Broadway St.) in Lake Orion and she's looking for a second job.
Lenderman plans to use her $20,000 scholarship to attend the University of Michigan's Flint campus. She's already been accepted and will begin classes this fall.
"I applied to seven universities and I got in to all seven," Lenderman said.
Business, most likely accounting, will be her course of study as a Wolverine.
"I've taken a lot of different courses in school, but business seems to be the one I enjoy the most," Lenderman said. "Accounting seems to be the most concrete (field). There's more job choices."
She's grateful for the experience Abacus Accounting has given her. She's doing everything from secretarial work to processing income tax returns.
"I love it. Everybody there is really nice and sweet," Lenderman said. "Every time I do a tax return, if there's something I don't know, they teach me how to do it. It can be very complex, but I'm figuring it out."
When asked her thoughts on students who don't take the time to apply for scholarships because they think winning is a long-shot like the lottery, or they're simply too lazy to do it, Lenderman replied, "I hear that everyday and it irritates me so much."
"It's free money, so you might as well try because that's less money coming out of your pocket or your parents' pockets," she said. "Even if your parents are paying for it, you need to try to help. They could be using that money for other stuff."
Lenderman didn't wait for some high school guidance counselor to find her opportunities like the Horatio Alger National Scholarship. She did the research all by herself.
"I found it on-line," she said. "I was searching through hundreds of scholarships and I found it."
In addition to the Horatio Alger award, Lenderman also received a $3,000 scholarship through Rochester Community Schools and a $5,000 grant through the Education Training Voucher program, which awards money to current and former foster youth to help pay for college or specialized education.
"And I've applied for a lot more," she noted.
As is stands right now, she has a grand total of $28,000 for her college education.
"That pays for half of it," Lenderman said.
Lenderman is very much looking forward to attending the National Scholars Conference next month in Washington D.C. where she will have the opportunity to meet fellow Horatio Alger scholarship winners and members of the national association.
"I can't wait for that," she said. "My foster mom bought me luggage as my graduation present."
Lenderman is particularly looking forward to visiting the White House and the Lincoln Memorial.
To all the high school students out there who are worried about how to pay for a college education, Lenderman advised them to "keep your grades up."
"There are a lot of opportunities out there. You just have to keep looking for them and not give up."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.