DENVER – Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday announced the first five winners of $50,000 scholarships the state is handing out through a lottery program for kids ages 12-17 who have been vaccinated.
They include an aspiring dentist from Centennial, a girl from Longmont who hopes to study American Sign Language, boys from Mesa County and Boulder, and a girl from Littleton.
Polis also brought on a boy named Thomas M. from Steamboat Springs who had originally been selected as one of the five winners for this week, but who declined the scholarship because he already has a full ride and financial help coming from his grandparents as he gets ready to head off to Clarkson University in New York to study engineering.
“I wanted to pass this on to someone who might need it more than me,” Thomas said, adding that he was proud to have gotten vaccinated and that he had been able to recently see his grandparents for the first time in more than a year.
Natalie M., from Centennial, will be a sophomore in high school this fall. She’s a hockey player and hopes to continue her education to become a dentist.
“I was really excited about getting it,” she said. “When I found out, I realized I wouldn’t have to worry about paying back student loans.”
She said the money will help her on her journey through undergraduate and grad school and to focus on her studies.
Arianna Garcia, 14, from Longmont, is a cross-country and track runner and said she wants to pursue American Sign Language studies after high school. She said the scholarship will relieve her family of financial burdens and allow her to focus on studying instead of the mounting debt.
“I think it will just be really cool just to help others,” she said of her pursuit of ASL studies.
Liam Atkins, 15, from Boulder, is volunteering at a research lab in Crested Butte this summer, focusing on seed dispersal. He said the money will help him down the road with his studies and allow him to do more extracurricular activities.
Atkins said he was thrilled to get the vaccine so he can have more spontaneous social interactions with his friends and get back into the classroom full-time next year.
Brett Cheney, 16, from Mesa County, said he got vaccinated so things could get back to normal.
“It’s been a long two years of us just dancing around, trying to figure everything out, trying to get everyone vaccinated,” he said. “I’m hoping that because I’m vaccinated, more people will go and get one. Maybe I’ll inspire them.”
He said he’s happy he can go out and hang out with friends now – that they all feel safer because of the vaccine. He said he was very happy in this moment to get the scholarship money so he can further his education.
Polis said he was happy that “fate” got a winner in Mesa County, which is seeing high COVID rates and low vaccination rates, to try to increase the chances more people there get the vaccine.
“This lifesaving vaccine is our ticket for students to return to the classroom, and an opportunity to win a $50,000 scholarship, which can open a multitude of doors for students pursuing advanced education,” the governor said.
And Gabriella Sleight, 14, from Littleton, was named the fifth winner. She admitted she doesn’t like shots but was happy to get hers.
“I think what I’d say to my friends if they were ever interested with the vaccine, I’d tell them to weigh it in their brains, weigh the pros and cons,” she said. “I think, eventually, people will come to the conclusion of being vaccinated. If they didn’t, that’s their choice.”
“I think it’s going to change the future,” she added.
Sleight said she was shocked when she heard she was one of the winners.
“I was like, wait, what? This is happening? This is real?” she said. “…I was surprised and really grateful.”
This week was the first drawing of five scholarship winners. There will be five more winners drawn each week for the next four weeks, with the state giving out 25 scholarships in total.