Grateful for Opportunity, One Student Gives Back With Service

ORLANDO — After attending five high schools – in Florida, Guyana and Washington state – Stephanie Sookhram knew that her prospects for college weren’t good.

With a 2.48 GPA and a history of bouncing from one place to another, she knew that most colleges and universities wouldn’t even consider her.

So after graduation, while living with her dad and waiting three years to receive her U.S. residency, she began searching for community colleges. And when she read that Valencia had won the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in 2011, Stephanie zeroed in on Valencia. Because she’d been an honors student in her native Guyana, Stephanie applied to Valencia’s Seneff Honors College – even though she had a GPA that was decidedly not honors.

However, she submitted a portfolio of her artwork, along with a plaintive essay begging for help attending college, and crossed her fingers.

When she opened an email from Valencia College, informing her that she’d been selected to receive a full scholarship and join the honors college, she cried.

“I still have that email,” says Stephanie. “It really impacted me. When I got that email, I said, ‘I cannot just sit through school. I have to get involved – I have to give back.’ “

Today, Stephanie is one of a handful of students who were finalists in the competition to be named the college’s Distinguished Graduate. She spent the last year serving as president of the West Campus Student Government Association and active in Phi Theta Kappa and Valencia Volunteers, where she helped design the West Campus butterfly garden. She volunteered with Second Harvest Food Bank, Hands On Orlando, First Baptist Church and Serenity’s Gift of Love. In addition, Stephanie served on the Student Final Grade Resolution Committee, where she and faculty members heard student grade appeals.

As a designer, she designed the Seneff Honors College t-shirts and is a contributor to the award-winning Phoenix literary and arts magazine.

“Ms. Sookhram is a tremendous asset among the cadre of student leaders at Valencia,” says Dr. Falecia Williams, president of Valencia’s West Campus. “ She has a strong work ethic, tenacious attitude, and passionate resolve to improve the student experience.”

Stephanie, now 25 and graduating with a 3.9 GPA, will start classes at Rollins College this fall to complete her bachelor’s degree .

Looking back, Stephanie is still wowed by the decision – by some anonymous honors committee – that she deserved a full scholarship to Valencia. “Someone made the decision that said, ‘You are worth it,’ “ she says, “ and now I believe I am worth it.”

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