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Program opens door to the possible

By TAYLOR GRAY, biology major:

Taylor poses
Taylor Gray with the Japan excursion tour guide Yumi.

Over the past year, the Presidential Scholars program at Amarillo College has been quite the learning experience. Personally, I can recall the very first day of this prestigious program. On top of being extremely nervous for what to expect for my first semester of college, I was even more anxious to see what type of program I really signed up for. Little did I know, the projects I would undertake, the people I would meet, the places I would go, and the friendships I would create would go on to be some of the most memorable moments of my college life.

The first semester started off quickly. Within two weeks of knowing my fellow students and professors, an intense but helpful leadership retreat took place. This retreat was a very powerful interaction that taught us how to lead as well as how to work as a team. Immediately after this experience, the real activities began. Group lunches, out of class events, and even a trip to Dallas improved our teamwork skills. All of these experiences brought us closer together, but nothing would top the life changing experience of getting to travel thousands of miles to the country of Japan.

When I found out I had the possibility of traveling to Japan, I was beyond ecstatic. Japan has always been one of the countries I had always wanted to travel to. During this gigantic excursion, I experienced new cultures, religions, lifestyles, and food. Something that I took away from this trip was how fortunate I was to get to experience this firsthand. I understood that not all students my age had the luxury of traveling to such a breathtaking country like this. When I was a child, I used to imagine Japan as a faraway land that I would never have the pleasure of exploring. I thought reaching it was impossible.  The overall experience of traveling to a country like this broke my thoughts of the impossible and opened a new door to the possible. This trip was truly a trip of a lifetime, and I am extremely grateful for that opportunity.

The second semester came and went by even quicker. We came back to start the spring semester without a second to waste. More group projects and lunches with community mentors piled up as we returned to our project groups. The biggest challenge this semester by far was our giant research project. This project called for the Scholars to pick a topic related to their majors and write a 10 page research paper about it. This research would then be presented at the annual West Texas A&M research conference in front of judges who would give their us their critiques and feedback.  This task was very challenging, but in the end I felt as if my research and presentation skills were polished again once more.

The Presidential Scholars program has done so much good for me as well as my peers. The opportunities that stem from this program are truly amazing. I have learned so much and am eager to share my experiences with the open world. I would encourage this program to anyone who is fortunate enough to get the chance.

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My friend My

–by Julia Cotten

Current Presidential Scholar Julia Cotten interviewed her classmate My Nguyen about her experiences in the Scholars Program. Both students have just completed their first semester in the Scholars Program and are participating in the educational excursion to Japan. Nguyen is a biology major who graduated from Highland Park High School. Cotten, an Amarillo High graduate, is a general studies major who plans to transfer to Texas Tech to pursue a degree in interior design.

Japanese symbol for FriendshipIn the spring of 2016, only one spot remained in the highly-competitive Presidential Scholars program. My Nguyen was the last high school senior interviewed and three qualified students were already vying for the final opening in the program, which accepts 15 new students a year. Even though Nguyen was the last senior to be interviewed, she made an impression. Nguyen possesses many characteristics that qualify her for the program, but I’m sure her fun-loving personality and bright smile sealed the deal.

My Nguen
My Nguyen at the Scholars Heart of a Leader retreat.

When Nguyen applied to the program and was selected for an interview, she was not very familiar with the opportunities and experiences that the Scholars Program offers. Though she did not know much about the program before the interview, she told me she became hooked after hearing about the stories and trips from previous years. When she received the offer of admission, Nguyen responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes.”

Many of the present Scholars entered this new chapter of their lives with both excitement and nerves. Nguyen was no exception. When asked what she was most looking forward to this year, she immediately responded that she was most excited for the trip to Japan that the Scholars are taking. “Who knew I would actually get to go overseas in my first year of college?” Nguyen said. But Nguyen’s excitement was accompanied by a certain amount of trepidation. She admitted that when first starting the program, “I was fearful of people judging me.”

Fortunately, Nguyen’s fears were put to rest. After only attending Amarillo College for one month, she said her Presidential Scholar classmates became like family. She said she was surprised that her classmates and instructors cared so much for each other and drew her out of her comfort zone. Nguyen told me that she is a totally different person than she was in high school. She has grown in her confidence and is filling her life with positivity.

My Nguyen is just one of the many students who have been changed by this program. It is such a pleasure to share this year and our trip to Japan with Nguyen, whose mindset has become, “Now I can achieve whatever I want to do.”

Overseas travel reinforces importance of studying history

by Citlaly Zamarripa, Presidential Scholar, pre-physician’s assistant major
____________________________________________________________
Most young people don
’t understand that something as horrific as the Holocaust
could happen again. Perhaps it wouldn’t replicate itself to it’s entirety, but instead in new ways or even worse, to a greater degree of evil.

On the trip to Lithuania and Poland with the Presidential Scholars, I experienced first hand what it would be like to be alive during the time of the Holocaust, and it made me realize how little I knew about any of it, and how terrifying it must have been for the people who had to suffer though it. It also made me realize that I need to do my part in bringing back the importance of such an important part in history.

Auschwitz sign
“Work sets you free” sign at the entrance to Auschwitz during the Scholars’ visit January, 2016. The original sign was stolen in recent years, and this is a replica.

Before the trip I had about the same mentality that most young people have about the Holocaust. I thought we were making it too big of a deal. As awful as that sounds, there is a whole generation who feels this way and has lost touch with just how important this really is. We are letting the history behind this slide right by us because it has been talked about throughout our lives so often. Yet we do not seem to know very much at all about what exactly happened. I’m sure we could all tell you about Anne Frank or Hitler, but if you ask us for details of the time period or of the lives of those who suffered through the gruesome conditions of this genocide, we wouldn’t have much to say at all. What I find the biggest and scariest issue of our overall understanding is that we do not know how the Holocaust came about or the events that led up to it. We don’t realize that this wasn’t because of an evil person making everyone do as he commanded. Hitler was a persuasive person and people trusted him as their leader. People were persuaded into believing that one social group was the root of all their problems and that all of their frustration and anger should be focused on them. So they chose to follow him and they allowed him to carry on with his plan and eliminate anyone who got in his way. Who’s to say that something similar couldn’t happen now?

I am so grateful that I have been given the opportunity to see firsthand what exactly I was taking for granted. I realize that most of what I experienced overseas cannot be replicated by studying a text book, but I know that the magnitude of the Holocaust is impacting regardless of where you study it. Therefore, I encourage everyone to rethink what you know about the Holocaust. So that we may not let the importance of it die, and most certainly not allow a similar situation arise.