While high school graduation is sure to be a momentous occasion for Kayla Gales, the 18-year-old Rocky Mount High School senior got to celebrate a huge academic achievement recently.
Gales was selected as one of the 1,000 students to be a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship. The program established by Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, provides outstanding minority students an opportunity to complete an undergraduate college education in any discipline area of interest.
The scholarship, which comes from a $1.6 billion grant from Bill and Melinda Gates, was created in 1999 for the purpose of bridging the gap between the different minority ethnicities in the fields related to STEM careers. The scholarship will allow Gales, who will be attending N.C. State University and majoring in civil engineering, to have college-related costs paid for through graduation granted she maintains a 3.3 grade point average.
Gales said she was excited when she received the letter telling she had earned the distinguished scholarship out of a pool of 52,000 students who applied.
“I can honestly say I reacted like a 7-year-old when I found out,” Gales said. “There was a big package that I received, and they were either telling me yes or this was a big way of telling me no. I read the first line and they said congratulations and that was all I needed to know. I was screaming saying, ‘I got it, I got it.’”
After telling her mother Kimberly about the good news, Gales and her mom went to her grandparents’ house to inform them.
Magdalena Creighton, Gales’ grandmother, said she never doubted that her granddaughter could obtain the scholarship – but her grandfather, Willie Creighton, said the news still hasn’t sunk in.
“It just seems surreal,” Willie Creighton said. “It doesn’t seemed like it has happened, but it has happened and we’re really grateful and very proud of Kayla.”
Kimberly Gales said her daughter always has had a determination to do well in school.
She said Kayla often would stay up late studying for an exam and sometimes she would find her asleep face-down on her books. Kimberly Gales said she always would reiterate to Kayla how God had special plans for her and to understand that her faith in God would allow her to achieve anything she put her mind to.
“Kayla was brought up in the church, and that is where some of her values have come from,” Kimberly Gales said. “Anything is possible with God and I wanted her to believe in that because she is never alone and God is always with her. She has the Lord and a strong family behind her. This accomplishment also wouldn’t have been possible without her educators behind her.”
Gales and her family expressed their genuine appreciation for Gales’ English teacher and International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator Betsy Hester. The IB program consists of rigorous college-level courses, which the students take 28 hours of examination at the university level at the end of the year, Hester said. Gales, who has a 4.95 grade point average, is the second student in the history of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools to win the scholarship, Hester said.
During the process, Gales had to write nine essays, which she said were the hardest and at times overwhelming part of completing the application. Hester said that all of Gales’ academic and financial information had to be thoroughly verified by the Gates Millennium Scholars’ representatives before processing. In addition, Hester had to write a recommendation letter addressing Gales’ scholarship ability, her leadership ability, her integrity, her academic ability and her potential. It took Hester several hours to do her part of the application, but the time was well worth it.
“I felt all along once she became a finalist that she would get the scholarship,” Hester said. “She is a remarkable person who has integrity, class and is very polished. “She is the most polite student that I have ever taught.”
Despite the grueling task of the scholarship process, Gales wants her peers to know that the end result could be a rewarding experience.
“I would tell anyone if you want it, go after it and don’t be deterred from it,” Gales said. “When you open up the application, it really seems overwhelming – but stick to it and be honest about the information you put down. I know it can be daunting, but it is really one of the best scholarships you could ever get.”