by Patty Johnson
In a year that’s been marked by uncertainty, one thing was crystal clear when BJC HealthCare and The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis honored the fourth class of BJC Scholars in a virtual ceremony July 31: As the Class of 2020 prepares for the challenges that lie ahead, many supporters are rooting them on, including BJC and The Scholarship Foundation.
“Welcome to a true labor of love — the 2020 BJC Scholars ceremony,” said Faith Sandler, executive director of The Scholarship Foundation, who opened the program. “Congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard to get to today.”
Buff Buffkin, board president of The Scholarship Foundation, also welcomed the new BJC Scholars, noting that The Scholarship Foundation is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
“We see higher education as an agent of change for individuals, families, our community and our nation as a whole,” Buffkin said. “With help from generous donors like BJC, we promote and provide support for post-secondary education. In these uncertain times, that support is more important than ever.”
June Fowler, BJC senior vice president of communications, marketing and public affairs, then welcomed the Scholars to the BJC family. “You are now a part of us, and we are a part of you,” she said. “We are invested in your success and will do everything possible to help you make your dreams come true.”
A special place in history
BJC president and CEO Rich Liekweg also addressed the Scholars, noting the unique challenges they’ve faced in 2020. “You are the class of students whose senior year was abruptly interrupted — cut short by a pandemic that has swept around the world and upended our lives in ways we never could have imagined. You are already dealing with disappointments and challenges no other high school seniors before you had to face, or should have,” he said.
He recounted the rites of passage young adults await with excitement — the final days of their senior year of high school, their last prom, graduation ceremonies — all of which and more the Class of 2020 missed. “Those are hard losses, and I think it’s important to take a moment to acknowledge what you missed,” Liekweg said. “I’d also like to take a moment to recognize what you found.
“I hope you found a deep well of resilience, and opportunities to grow in ways you may not have thought possible. I hope you found new ways to stay connected with your friends, your teams, your coaches, your teachers,” he said. “Most of all, what I hope you found is just how many people were and continue to be behind you — and we are behind you today.”
Making a difference in the lives of young people
As the Scholars introduced themselves, several noted that they are first-generation college students, and all expressed their gratitude for the financial help.
“Trying to get through the first year of college as a first-generation student can be scary,” said Rickeah Henderson, who plans to study social work with a Spanish minor at the University of Central Missouri. “This scholarship will really help to lift a financial burden off of my family.”
Added Alana Lam, who plans to major in pre-physical therapy at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, “I think I want to go to graduate school — and, being a first-generation student, I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay for school. This scholarship will really help.”
“We started this fund because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people,” said Fowler. “We have now invested $1.4 million in making sure young people have access to next-stage education. Congratulations to you, the newest members of our family. Each of you has the drive to be successful — and many champions rooting for you.”
“We are so proud of what you have achieved to this point, and we are excited for what your future holds,” Liekweg added. “Each of your stories is inspiring and uplifting, and I know you have limitless possibilities ahead of you.
“Know that we will get past this pandemic over time, and I sincerely look forward to the day when your academic life can return to a more ‘normal’ semblance of the college experience,” he said. “Meanwhile, continue to find your way with your inner strength and the support of your family, friends and one another — and your newfound friends here at BJC. We are behind you 100%, and we’re cheering you on.”
About the BJC Scholars Fund
BJC created the BJC Scholars Fund in response to regional community needs identified by the Ferguson Commission and For the Sake of All, and in recognition of the critical correlation between higher education, better health outcomes and greater longevity. Open to high school seniors planning to pursue a two- or four-year degree at a public Missouri or Illinois state college or university, the BJC Scholars Fund offers need-based awards of up to $10,000 per academic year. The annually renewable scholarship can be applied toward tuition, fees, room and board, transportation and incidental costs. In its fourth year, the fund is now supporting more than 50 students at institutes of higher learning in the bi-state region. For the first time, BJC Scholars will be represented in all four classes at universities throughout Missouri and Illinois.
The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis administers all aspects of the program and supports the awardees and their parents in taking full advantage of other state, federal and institutional funds to which students are entitled, to ensure that the BJC scholarship award completes the funding required for full year attendance. The foundation also provides ongoing support that includes advising, workshops, financial aid counseling, participation in paid internship programs and additional funding opportunities if relevant.