When Katy Smith saw the scholarship advertised under Diana Bardwell’s name, she was inspired to try for it. “She was always very warm, always willing to help . . . she was the kindest woman you would ever want to meet,” Ms. Smith said, recalling Mrs. Bardwell as a “mother figure” to the students of the class of 2013.
Mrs. Bardwell, a lifelong Islander, was an active member of several community organizations, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association, and Rotary Club. She died in 2011 after a 16-month battle with ameloblastic sarcomatoid carcinoma, a rare cancer.
A $2,000 scholarship in her name will be given out this year for the first time by Rotary Club of Martha’s Vineyard.
The scholarship will go to Katy Smith when graduating seniors gather for Class Night tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle.
It is one small piece of a community-wide scholarship program on the Vineyard that this year will exceed the $900,000 mark. A total of approximately $947,000 in scholarships, the largest amount in the history of the program, will go to graduating seniors and also to Island students studying at the post-graduate level.
The money, raised by Island organizations and individual donors, will provide a much-needed financial break to 146 seniors attending a wide range of educational and vocational institutions in the fall. The minimal amount given to any student is about $1,000. Most students use the money to fill the gap that is often left after parental support and loans and grants offered by the federal government and the school.
The scholarships make rising enrollment costs more affordable for students, and reduce debt, said Michael McCarthy, director of guidance at the public high school.
They also send a message to students that their Island is committed to their success. “It really tells kids . . . that it’s a community value to have them continue in their education,” Mr. McCarthy said.
The funds include $200,000 from the Permanent Endowment, the most that organization has ever awarded in a single year.
In January the students begin the process of leafing through the scholarship pamphlet produced by the guidance department, matching their own strengths and interests with the scholarship criteria defined by Island organizations. Some programs are need-based, while others award students with a particular interest, academic or otherwise.
Many of the scholarships given memorialize a lost loved one.
The $2,000 Rotary Grant/Diana Bardwell Memorial Scholarship is one such fund that pays tribute to a well-loved community member.
The scholarship honors a graduating senior who is committed to community service, or expresses an interest in political science or art history.
Five-year Rotarian Mike McCourt said the scholarship fund fits snugly into the Rotary Club’s mission.
“It’s part of what we stand for,” he said. “‘Service above self’ is our motto . . . we can’t do enough to support kids and get them off on the right foot.” Incoming Rotary president, Dr. Rolfe Wenner, a former principal and a superintendent, developed the scholarship application in accordance with the goals of the Bardwell family and the Rotary Club.
Ms. Smith did not advertise her relationship with Mrs. Bardwell to the committee when she applied for the scholarship, so the Bardwell family was pleasantly surprised to learn that she had been chosen as its recipient.
One of 29 applicants for the Rotary award, Ms. Smith is being recognized primarily for her community service, which includes work for Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, for the Aquinnah fire department, and for Safe Rides, a confidential student-run ride service available to young people during the weekend nights. Ms. Smith is also the only Girl Scout in the high school.
She will begin study in physical therapy at Simmons College in the fall.
She is also the goalie on the girl’s ice hockey team, a member of jazz band and she works three jobs. The committee was most impressed by “a comment that was made by a [high school] faculty member, that if she sees someone having difficulty, she offers to help. She would mentor them, or at least try to give that person some direction,” Mr. Wenner said.
Ms. Smith’s long-term goals include serving in the U.S. Navy as a physical therapist, and then making her way back to the island to raise a family. “I want my children to have the same childhood, education, and sense of community that I had,” she said.
One of the special people in that community was Diana Bardwell, the mother of Ian, who was in Ms. Smith’s class since first grade.
“She was on all the class trips that I was on,” she said. “She was very dear to my heart . . . I knew how much she has done for the community and how much of an impact she has had. I wanted to do anything to honor her. I just wanted to follow up with whatever she has done.“
When she was told she’d been awarded the scholarship, she was “ecstatic,” she said,” adding: “You never expect to win, you just go for it and hope for the best.”
“My class is [full of] talented and worthy students,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting it, but I was thrilled to find out that I was chosen.”
Throughout the application process, which included two interviews, Ms. Smith became more comfortable sharing her accomplishments with the committee, or tooting her own horn, so to speak. This is a skill that the Rotarians wish to encourage in young Islanders through a future interview training initiative.
It was Ms. Smith’s first time being interviewed.
“I definitely learned that being interviewed is harder than it sounds,” she said.
She said she is impressed by the amount of economic help the community offers to students. “I have quite a few friends off-Island, and until this year I never realized that nobody else gets all these opportunities. Nobody else gets a local scholarship package,” she said. “I am amazed that our community supports us from day one.”
Another new scholarship is the Donald Rappaport Legacy Scholarship, which was created by the Rappaport family in memory of Don Rappaport, a lifelong sailor and educator on the Island. Mr. Rappaport died in August 2011. The scholarship is awarded through Sail Martha’s Vineyard, a nonprofit dedicated to furthering maritime education on the Island.
“It’s clearly a meaningful way for them to honor Don’s legacy,” said Brock Callen, director of Sail MV.
This year, the Permanent Endowment will award 103 scholarships to graduating seniors and post-graduates. It includes 58 to regional high school seniors, three to charter school seniors and 41 to former students. Since the beginning of the fund, 821 students have received scholarships from the Permanent Endowment, totaling $1.6 million.
“This is just an utterly remarkable community for supporting education,” said Kerry Alley, chairman of the scholarship committee at Permanent Endowment.
The Endowment will host a small breakfast reception for recipients Tuesday morning at 8 at the high school.
“I think students are generally grateful,” Mr. Alley said. “We usually get a couple of dozen well-meant thank-yous.”