By Odalis A. SUAREZ
Our founding fathers dedicated their lives to establish a new nation, a nation capable of providing liberty and prosperity to present and future families. Their intelligence, devotion, and success define American spirit, which were just some of the many qualities used to select winners of the Spirit of American Youth Scholarship.
The scholarship is sponsored by Caruso Affiliated, a real-estate development company responsible for the creation of the Americana at Brand, The Grove and other shopping centers within California. The application is open to all schools within the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys. This year the company received 300 applicants. Of those, two students were awarded $10,000 scholarships and two were awarded $2,500 scholarships. In addition to their monetary award, winners also received a medallion and a jacket.
“I am a big believer in education and I am a very big believer [that] our country rests in our youth,” said Rick Caruso, CEO of Caruso Affiliated. “I have been very fortunate and it’s been a way to give back.”
The application process requires students to not only provide two teacher recommendations, but also compose an essay reflecting on their service to the community and how they plan to make further contributions in the future.
The four students were recognized on July 1 at the Renaissance Orchestra Event at the Americana. The winners and their families were invited back to the outdoor shopping mall later to attend a celebratory luncheon at Trattoria Amici. There, the students had an opportunity to meet Caruso and the reading committee members who selected them for the awards.
“Rick [Caruso] is very passionate to meet the families,” stated Tracy Chudoba-Wood, a reading committee member.
Leaving the restaurant that afternoon, the winners and some members of the reading committee strolled the Americana grounds, sharing laughs and life stories. Despite knowing each other a short time, the group treated one another like close friends.
“[We not only] make sure we pick people that were able to answer the questions correctly or write well, but [who also] fit into our family,” said Kellee Mendoza, another reading committee member.
One of the two exceptional students to win the $10,000 scholarship was 2010 Crescenta Valley High School graduate Alexander Kazandjian.
“If you help people find things that they’re passionate about, they will voluntarily help their community,” explained Kazandjian of his perspective of community service.
Full of charisma, humor, and affability, Kazandjian was enjoying the afternoon with his new friends. As a CVHS student, he not only graduated with an approximate 4.4 GPA, but was also accepted into Duke University where he plans to attend with an undeclared major.
It was with a perseverance that Kazandjian has shown throughout his life that he successfully waded through application process.
“[On] April 12th, I had my foot amputated. I was in the hospital when it came time for the interview,” he said.
Part of a birth defect, Kazandjian was diagnosed with general leg deformations. Kazandjian explained the amputation as being “the eventuality of my birth defect.”
After the procedure, Kazandjian was admitted into the hospital two additional times due to complications. During this time he was prescribed pain medication, which he stopped taking for a period of time in order to complete the interview process for the scholarship.
“He didn’t write anything about any type of handicap. It was all about inspiration and inspiring others,” said Mendoza. “[His essay] was full of humor, that was [the] thing that stood out. It was fun, it was inspiring.”
A few of his community service activities include being a volunteer at College View Hospital and a peer tutor, but most importantly his essay expressed his ability to not let anything stand in his way, including his disability.
“It was different because his opinions were doable. He was speaking from experiences. It definitely showed his personality,” explained Chudoba-Wood of his application.
The other $10,000 scholarship winner was Notre Dame High School graduate Yasamin Azarakhsh who graduated with approximately a 4.43 GPA and will be attending the University of Southern California studying journalism.
The two $2,500 winners are La Cañada High School graduate Amanda Borland and North Hollywood High School graduate Shaun Mehra. Borland, who graduated with approximately a 4.42 GPA, will also be attending USC majoring in business administration with an emphasis in cinematic arts. Mehra, who graduated with an approximate 4.37 GPA, was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania and plans on studying biological
engineering as well as business. He has been working on the
manipulation of a neurotransmitter that can prevent physical aging.
The Spirit of American Youth Scholarship will begin accepting its next round of applications on Nov. 1.