On a Monday afternoon, Colorado State University juniors Kiloaulani Ka’awa Gonzales and Francis Commercon received some excellent news. In recognition for their outstanding public service achievements, each had been selected to receive the competitive Harry S. Truman scholarship.
After being told that they were going to give feedback to an alumni member who was starting a scholarship, the pair was led into a room where they were surprised to see University President Tony Frank, as well as scholarship coordinator, Mary Swanson and the professors and mentors who provided letters of recommendation or help with the scholarship to each of the young men.
“I kind of knew that day was a day we would find out because all the California scholars already found out so I called them like 10 times that day and nobody answered the phone. When the door opened my stomach dropped,” said Ka’awa Gonzales.
Both fish, wildlife and conservation biology majors from the same school, it is fairly uncommon for recipients to have such a similar background. Mary Swanson, scholarship coordinator for the University noted the significance of their concurrent selection.
“It’s uncommon because typically Truman awards one scholarship per state,” Swanson said. “One of the reasons that both Francis and Kilo received the award is because they were applying for different states.”
While Commercon applied as a Colorado student, Ka’awa Gonzales applied for the scholarship as a student from Hawaii.
The scholarship only selected 63 scholars this year for their work in public service. Both Ka’awa Gonzales and Commercon were offered an award of $30,000 to the graduate institution of their choice. They have also been granted up to four years of deferment for graduate school and will be given an internship opportunity through the scholarship committee.
Ka’awa Gonzales plans to use the money at the University of Hawaii, while Commercon is looking into a program at Cornell University. For Mary Swanson, the woman who believed in both young men and helped them every step of the way with the application process, said it is a particularly gratifying moment.
“Working with students is a great pleasure and all the students I work with are really fantastic,” Swanson said. “Both Kilo and Francis are really talented.”
For both Ka’awa Gonzales and Commercon, receiving this award is opening doors for their futures so that may continue on in leadership roles as public servants.
“Now I have a straight shot at a lot of graduate programs I might not have had access to before, and now that I have some funding with me it will be a lot easier for me to get into the programs I want to,” Commercon said.
Ka’awa said he believe the leadership positions will allow him to affect change.
”Putting us into these leadership positions they know we can affect change,” Ka’awa Gonzales said. “It’s nothing new, they are just rewarding us for what we already started.”
During the grueling essay writing and interviewing process, Commercon noted that he struggled with the choice to even pursue the scholarship. He repeatedly thanked Swanson for her role in encouraging him.
“I’m so grateful,” Commercon said. “I did not see myself as the kind of person that would be a Truman scholar–it shows me they are normal people–people like me.”
For his part, Ka’awa Gonzales said he is also extremely grateful to everyone who helped him to craft his application and receive the award. He mentioned his responsibility to take the momentum and support of the scholarship to affect positive change.
“A big thing about being national scholar and having all these responsibilities is that you really are under a very big microscope,” Ka’awa Gonzales said. “Understanding that what you do matters; I feel that’s where the extra pressure is, being scholars recognized on campus.”
Collegian Managing Editor Mikaela Rodenbaugh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mikarodenbaugh.