May 11, 2017

Three Cheers for the Class of 2017!

On the heels of College Signing Day, the Tiger Woods Foundation held its 8th annual Earl Woods Scholar Program High School Graduation Celebration at Chapman University. The luncheon, held in honor of our 10 Orange County Earl Woods Scholars, brought together families, teachers, counselors and TWF staff for an afternoon filled with pride and swelling with emotion.

Kicking off the afternoon’s celebration was Cristina Fernández, senior director of the Earl Woods Scholar Program (EWSP). In her opening remarks, Cristina saluted the scholars, who were selected during their junior year of high school from a pool of nearly 400 nominees, on all they’ve achieved and overcome throughout their high school journey and encouraged them to strive for more as they take their next steps toward college. “The future is not a destination, it’s a direction,” she imparted to the Class of 2017 scholars who will be leaving for college this fall.

For the 10 scholars, the majority of whom are first-generation college students, being part of the Earl Woods Scholar Program this past year has already left an indelible imprint on them. The gratitude they feel towards the Scholar Program and its staff runs deep.

Sarai Michel, who will be attending Barnard College in New York City this fall, always had the unconditional love and support of her family. But what she needed, and found in the EWSP team, was the guidance necessary to navigate the college process.

“I am a first-generation student, so the college application process was all new to me. When I became an Earl Woods Scholar, I knew I wasn’t going through the process alone—I knew I always had an outlet, someone I could ask questions to, someone who always had my back—and I’m very thankful for that,” Sarai explained.

Michael Seltzer, a counselor at Western High School in Anaheim, has nominated many deserving students for the Earl Woods Scholar Program throughout the years. Attending the luncheon to support his students Andy Ho, who will be attending UCLA, and Ivy Phan, who will be attending UC Berkeley, Michael has seen first-hand how unique the program truly is.

“The Earl Woods Scholar Program is amazing. The things that they do, not just helping the kids with choosing colleges, but the enrichment opportunities they offer make the students more well-rounded,” he said. “When Cristina started this program, she made sure that it didn’t end after the scholars got into college. She made sure that the relationship stayed. She keeps them all together. She doesn’t let them go.”

Photo: Cristina Fernández (center) and the Earl Woods Scholar team

Berenice Gurski, a counselor at Santa Ana High School who came to cheer on her students and soon-to-be UCLA freshmen Daniel Carranza and Cristian Carrasco, has worked closely with the EWSP team over the years and echoes a similar sentiment of appreciation for the program.

“Having my students be part of the Earl Woods Scholar Program gives me peace of mind. After they are out of my hands, they will be mentored and taken care of,” she said. “And as we know, first-generation scholars face so many obstacles, even once they are in college. With this program, I know someone will always be there for them throughout their four years.”

In addition to gratitude for the program, the resounding theme shared throughout the luncheon was the immense sense of appreciation every single scholar had for their families.

Omar Camarillo, who is heading to UCLA in the fall and majoring in computer science and engineering, summed up the gratitude that every student in the room carried in their hearts. “I would like to give a special thank you to my parents,” he said, “for working from sunrise to sunset and for raising me into what I have become. I promise one day I will be able to say the words, ‘You can retire, it’s my turn.’”

Michelle To, who will study global health at UC San Diego this fall, acknowledged all the sacrifices her parents made to give her a better life. “I want to thank my mom and dad for immigrating to this country with dreams and aspirations of raising children to be able to live out their own dreams and aspirations,” she said. “You didn’t have the opportunity to make it past 10th grade, yet you guys pushed me to always strive for more.”

Speaking to a teary eyed but extremely proud room of parents, teachers and staff, the Tiger Woods Foundation’s VP of Programs and Education, Dr. Katherine Bihr, closed the celebration with a heartfelt message to the scholars, reminding them to stay focused and true to their goals, despite challenges happening in the world today.

“We have future doctors, nurses, engineers and computer scientists in the room with us—and all of you give me great faith for the future of my world and my country,” she said. “Listening to all of you talk about your futures and the goals you are going to achieve, makes me know that we are going to be okay. And remember, your success is our success and we’ll do whatever we can to always support you.”

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