Oct. 22—Fitch High School senior Elviany Quiroz recalled that at 8 years old, she was a translator, supporter and tutor, "the bridge between two cultures of my immigrant family."
Despite having done many things at a young age, she wasn't sure she found her purpose, but she found inspiration in Billy Joel's song "The River of Dreams," which she sang Thursday night in her acceptance speech for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Trust Fund.
She is vice president of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and a singer in the choir at St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church.
Quiroz, who intends to study communications, is one of 13 high school seniors of color in southeastern Connecticut to receive a $20,000 scholarship this year from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Trust Fund. The 40th annual scholarship awards ceremony was held Thursday night, virtually for the second year in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like Quiroz, Taina Smith also put music into her speech: The New London Science and Technology Magnet High School senior, who plays eight instruments, sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" while playing the ukulele. Smith, who is also active in sports and with the arts nonprofit Writers Block Ink, intends to become a music teacher.
Williams School student Sydney Swann said King made her realize the importance of highlighting her own imperfections to highlight her individuality. Swann, who is on the varsity cross country team and volunteers at Harkness Memorial State Park, intends to study communications and journalism.
New London High School senior Mustafa Dannett is captain of the football team, volunteers at a soup kitchen, has been a teacher's aide at C.B. Jennings International Elementary Magnet School, and does mentoring in athletics and citizenship. He is looking at a career in business management.
Fellow New London senior Peter Lucido said he is going to be an aeronautical engineer and "take my family to the stars." He is a member of Students Organizing Against Racism, and has received awards for academic excellence in chemistry and pre-calculus, along with an award for perfect attendance.
Saint Bernard School senior AngelJolee Carter said she has been attending MLK scholarship dinners since she was in a bassinet, and that she was four years old when she told Eunice Waller — who awarded the very first scholarship, of $100 — that she would be on the stage one day.
A student council member who was awarded an internship at New London Superior Court and is passionate about making mental health resources more available, Carter plans to study criminal justice and become an attorney.
Norwich Free Academy has five scholarship winners, the most of any school this year: Hannah Lin, Cynthia Deneus, Shayla Roche, Jason Hicks, and Amy Carlosviza.
Lin is a teaching assistant at the Southeastern Connecticut Chinese School, volunteer at Backus Hospital, and Planned Parenthood peer educator, and she has set her sights on becoming a physician.
Local middle schools identified middle school students who may be MLK scholars some day, and Lin told these eighth graders, "Your roots are your branches, not only where you come from, but where the future will lead you."
Deneus talked about summers visiting Poland and how "the fingers point, the eyes stare and the tongues wag," and she passed on to the eighth graders the advice she got from her mom: "They are not judging; they are admiring you."
Deneus, captain of the varsity basketball team and member of the NAACP Youth Council, intends to study aerospace engineering.
Roche is a field hockey and tennis team member, crisis responder with Urban Alliance, and Yellow Farmhouse Education Center intern, and she intends to study nursing. Recalling how her father left her at 16, she told the eighth graders to expect the unexpected, and to be valiant in their response.
Hicks, who is planning to become a data scientist, spoke about reminiscing on his grandfather's lectures — on challenging oneself and growing from adversity — when faced with the difficulty of losing his grandfather to brain cancer. Hicks is the secretary of the Class of 2022, volunteered as a poll worker in last year's election, and plays the saxophone.
Carlosviza said in her speech, "I am not a drug dealer, I am not lazy, and I do not want your job. I am a proud Hispanic, with dreams of becoming a lawyer." She is president of the Successful Hispanic Alliance Club at NFA and is a National History Day winner for her work on the Hollywood Blacklist.
Saint Bernard senior JoseManuel Castillo said while God gave him musical talent and his trombone led him to scholarships, he wants to major in computer science and give back to his family. He has also been involved with Camp D.A.S.H. and the Dominican Association of New London.
The last scholar recognized was Ledyard High School senior Nadalia McLeary, who spoke about remembering her late mother when she looks at a picture of her family in front of pink blossoming trees. McLeary promised her mother she would become an architect, and her goal is to create a nonprofit to help low-income families become homeowners.
For the fourth year, Pfizer was the platinum sponsor of the event, while The Day was the gold sponsor and Electric Boat the silver sponsor.
Those wishing to donate to the scholarship fund can do so by sending a check to MLKSTF / P.O. Box 1308 / New London, CT 06320 or visiting mlktrustfund.org to donate via PayPal. The fund has provided 209 scholarships since 1968.
Editor's Note: The video of the ceremony cut out Thursday night before the final three scholars. The full video was made available Friday, and this article was updated Friday to include information about Amy Carlosviza, Nadalia McLeary and JoseManuel Castillo.