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The "Frenchie" Memorial Scholarship

Mises Daily: Monday, April 26, 2010 by

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Every year in the springtime the best and brightest high school seniors around the country fill out applications for scholarships funded by individuals or foundations in their local communities. These scholarships more than likely won't pay for the entire college experience, but every little bit helps.

These scholarships serve to help people remember those in their community who have passed on and at the same time connect those that were so important with young students whose bright future remains in front of them.

As bad as we hear things are at the nation's high schools, the kids I'm evaluating seem light years beyond where I was at the same age. My mother has made the point that I never could have won the "Frenchie" Memorial Scholarship that we award each spring honoring my dad, who made his last bogey on December 21, 2003.

True enough, while I would have met the qualifications of planning to go on for a secondary education, having a 3.0 GPA or better, and being a varsity letter winner, I wouldn't have stood a chance against the student athletes I'm considering this year, or any who have applied the last few years we've awarded the "Frenchie."

While considering this year's 19 applications, today's Abilene, Kansas, appears to be Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." What can explain that no less than six applicants are ranked #1 in their class? And if not for an aberrant B+ in Jazz Band a couple years ago and someone else's B+ in English 12-CCCC I & II last semester, there would be two more. It takes a 3.08 GPA to rank smack dab in the middle of Abilene High's class of 2010–54 of 108. Isn't that where the 2.0 kids are supposed to be?

And these kids aren't just staying home, studying, cranking out good grades, while one semester a year managing to get to practice and participate enough to letter in some sport. These students virtually all have jobs (one girl with a 4.0 helped her parents by "maintaining farm equipment"), many are active at church, some in 4-H (one was the county rabbit competition co-chair one year, and another had the CKFF champ red angus steer in 2008!), others in Future Farmers of America, and a couple have gone to Haiti to lend a hand. More than one made the trip with the AHS marching band to play in the McDonald's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2008, a couple had parts in school productions of "The Sound of Music" and "Willy Wonka," and one applicant has a considerable handicap but still manages to maintain not only a 4.0 GPA but by all accounts a wonderful attitude.

"I don't know how Frenchie would feel about all of this. He might tell me to save my money: that no one needs to remember that old barber who used to love playing golf and watching football games."

Sure there's grade inflation and all that, but these kids are getting busy. All in all they got good dips from the gene pool, and they aren't letting it go to waste. The 2010 graduates plan on attending colleges and universities like K-State, KU, Benedictine, Kansas Wesleyan, Fort Hays State, and Washburn. And there is only one who thinks he'll be a business major.

This group aspires to be teachers, veterinarians, speech therapists, and the like. None have designs on creating and selling financial products like Abacus 2007-AC1 for Goldman Sachs. And thankfully none said anything about saving the planet. One mentioned that he thought wind technology could solve the world's energy problems. But once he moves away he'll realize the wind doesn't blow every minute most places like it does in Abilene and he'll get over that notion.

It's tough making a decision when all are worthy and so little separates those at the very top. And while the students appear to be tireless, those they ask for recommendations from are at best lazy and at worst uncaring. The vast majority just fill out a one-page recommendation form, circling numerical ratings for various characteristics, making a brief comment as to how the recommender was associated with the applicant, signing their name, and calling it good. Most are teachers or work at the school.

They should know this isn't helpful to a decision maker who is a thousand miles away and who has never met these students. They surely expect more from their students. Their best and brightest should receive more from them. More than once my decision has been made when that rare someone provides a thoughtful letter on a student's behalf.

This year more applications mentioned parents being out of work or reduced to part time. Yes, and there are single mothers raising families in Abilene. But financial need is not a consideration for the "Frenchie" scholarship. Combing over parents' tax returns and financial statements to decide who is worthy is not something I want to do.

I don't know how Frenchie would feel about all of this. He might base his decisions more on athletics than academics. Or he might take need into account. He might tell me to save my money: that no one needs to remember that old barber who used to love playing golf and watching football games.

But the best and brightest need our help, and we all need to remember.