The UFT gave out $5,000 college scholarships to 189 high school seniors at the 53rd annual Albert Shanker Scholarship Awards Ceremony and Reception on June 7 at UFT headquarters in Manhattan.
“You are a phenomenal success,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. “You’ve accomplished a great deal already, but you still have much more to do, correct? Do you all have much more to do?” he asked, prompting students to shout out their agreement.
The UFT gives the union-funded Shanker scholarship awards to academically excellent and financially eligible New York City public high school seniors and post-graduate students. Eight post-graduates received awards this year.
“This is just one step in your personal journey,” said Joseph Usatch, the director of the Albert Shanker Scholarship Fund. “Dedicate yourself and it will be filled with these proud moments of prosperity and success. The sky’s the limit. Go out and change the world.”
Victoria Gomes, who immigrated from Bengal in 2016, received an undergraduate scholarship four years ago, and this year received a graduate award to pursue her dream of becoming a physician assistant. She urged fellow recipients: “Be ambitious, and be unstoppable.”
Students who attended in person introduced themselves and announced their plans, naming a variety of public and private institutions in New York and beyond. The names of awardees watching the ceremony online were read aloud during a slideshow of their names and high schools.
Teacher Vincent Pham accompanied winners from his school, International HS at Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, to the event. He described the students, who are all recent immigrants, as “resilient and mature beyond their years.”
The scholarship is named for the late Albert Shanker, former UFT and American Federation of Teachers president. Since 1969, the union has awarded more than 10,000 scholarships totaling more than $50 million.
- Student: Sumaira Irshad
- Her mentor: Maria Franqui, school counselor
- High School: The Urban Assembly School for Leadership & Empowerment, Brooklyn
- College in September: New York University Stern School of Business
- Planned Major: Business
When Sumaira was in kindergarten, authorities arrested her father as she, her siblings and her mother watched. He was deported and sent back to Pakistan. Extended family members advised her mother to return to South Asia with the children, but she stayed and raised them in a one-bedroom apartment, determined they would receive a good education. The two oldest daughters are in college, and Sumaira will follow them next year as a first-generation college student. Her tuition will be paid for, thanks to New York’s Higher Education Opportunity Program for students with financial and educational needs.
Sumaira said her mother’s strength to go against cultural norms stays with her as she pursues her dreams. “I hope I have the same bravery and courage to say no to something that I’m not comfortable with,” she said.
Franqui said Sumaira is a determined, gutsy and self-motivated young woman with a graceful demeanor who will thrive in college and life. “She’s just going to do amazing because she doesn’t take no for an answer,” Franqui said.
Sumaira said Franqui knows her family’s situation well and has helped and guided her. “I’ve grown close to her over the years,” she said, “not just as my counselor, but as someone who I can go to and speak with if I’m having a difficulty.”
- Student: Jestina Tam
- Her mentor: Julia Bardach, 10th-grade teacher
- High School: Manhattan Hunter Science HS
- College in September: Binghamton University/SUNY
- Planned Major: Biology
Jestina Tam plans to study ecological genetics in the First-Year Research Immersion Program at Binghamton. She wants to be a hematologist-oncologist. After her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when Jestina was 9, she read medical articles, watched videos and accompanied her to medical appointments because she wanted to help. Jestina’s mother died when she was a freshman, strengthening her passion for cancer research.
“I want to be the change that I wish I could have been,” she said.
Julia Bardach is impressed with Jestina’s love for learning, curiosity, kindness and her “drive to keep pushing herself to do better.” Jestina is involved in many extracurricular activities and contributes a lot to the campus.
“She’s just open and welcoming,” said Bardach, a Binghamton alumna. “She’s a really great listener. She can balance truly listening and also giving her own opinions and analyses.”
Jestina said Bardach helped her recognize her strengths in two areas where she previously lacked confidence: writing and reading.
But most important was the bond between student and teacher. “It was also the first time I felt comfortable sharing about my personal life with a teacher,” Jestina said. “And through speaking with her and personally getting to know her, I had a lot of encouragement to follow my passions.”