“What is success?”
Third Unitarian Church’s Allen Matthews asked this question of a group of students Sunday at the annual Austin Scholarship Awards Ceremony. Although the answers differed, the students all had one goal in common: going to college.
Third Unitarian’s Austin Scholarship program matches local donors with students from West Side high schools. This year, 17 high school graduates were awarded scholarships.
Earl Williams, a former principal at Austin High School, said the program originated with Austin High School students but was expanded to include area high schools in the early 1990s. Scholarship amounts began at $250, but have now reached $1,000 each.
Among the donors present at the ceremony was Harry Axelrod, a graduate of Austin High School in the 1930s who recently celebrated his 96th birthday. He has been donating for almost 30 years.
“We financed one of the first scholarships given,” Axelrod said. He and his wife, Margaret, met at Austin High School and became aware of the scholarship program through their involvement with Third Unitarian Church. After his wife’s passing, Axelrod has continued to donate in her memory.
The program, he said, has special significance to him, as he always dreamt of pursuing college after graduation but was unable to do so because of the financial struggles most large families faced during the Great Depression. Though he was fortunate to find work in the metal fabricating industry — which turned into a successful career — he attended night school at Northwestern University much later in pursuit of his bachelor’s degree.
His roots in Austin prompted him to give back to the community.
“I had a great education at Austin — it was almost like a small college,” Axelrod said.
While many scholarship recipients described their educational goals, many also expressed interest in using their careers to give back to the community.
Hugo Lopez, a graduate of Benito Juarez Community Academy, was one of several students who spoke during the ceremony.
“I’ve seen people around me drop out, join gangs, not accomplish their dreams,” said Lopez, who plans to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology in the fall. “I want to set an example and show them that you don’t have to choose that lifestyle — we’re capable of things like everyone else is — I want to show the world that.”
Adam Harris, a graduate of Providence-St. Mel, plans to study business and film production at Washington University in St. Louis this fall. He hopes to bring his experience back to Chicago to enable more original film production in the city, with the aim of creating more jobs for Chicagoans.
“With my degree, I won’t forget about the community that raised me,” said Aliyah Abu-Hazeem, another scholarship recipient and graduate of William H. Wells Community Academy.