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Special graduation gift worth $25m

Rogers Class of 2022 showered with aid, recruited with $25m in offers

Rogers seniors have received the ultimate graduation gift – more than $25 million in scholarship offers to help them pay for continuing their education and training.

While the majority of that comes from colleges and branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, one of the sweetest gifts is the local money – more than $379,000 - coming from alumni, businesses, and even school staff. The graduating class received 270 community scholarships from more than 80 donors. Katie Kelley, district scholarship coordinator, assists donors and leads the team of three school coordinators who support students in their quest for financial assistance. This team is part of the comprehensive support seniors receive from counselors, teachers and the Rogers Honors Academy – all helping with recommendations, essays and navigating the applications.

The combination of the scholarships, the donors’ support and the celebration of the scholarship ceremonies are an important part of the senior send-off. While many graduates are pursuing degrees at Arkansas colleges, some are enrolling at Arizona State University, Wellesley in Massachusetts, Oberlin in Ohio, St. Olaf in Minnesota, Pepperdine in California, and Colgate and Barnard in New York. But all are looking for the program that fits their dreams and their budget.

“It’s encouraging to students to go out and set their dreams high, knowing their community is always there for them, and they will always be welcome back here,” Kelley said.

One of the largest local donors is the Buck Foundation which awarded $85,000 in scholarships this year. Started by a Rogers alumna and former teacher Jan Buck, the Buck Foundation particularly recognizes students who are active in their community and have the potential to become community leaders. The largest scholarships, the Pride of Rogers and the Pride of Heritage scholarships, provide $32,000 over four years. The Buck Foundation also awarded 50 former RPS students an upperclassman scholarship, one of the few local scholarships that go beyond funding the freshman year.

A former Buck “Pride of Rogers” scholarship recipient, Caleb Surly, started giving back to his community soon after graduating with the “Chase Your Dreams Scholarship”. Surly recruited his then employer ESPN to help with a matching donation. Now that single scholarship has grown to three scholarships awarded this year with the help of another RHS graduate Ty Galyean (’14) for a total of $4,000. Surly also surprised his 2021 recipients and renewed their scholarships for another year.

The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce with the help of a grant from SWEPCO and AT&T awarded 16 students in its LEAD program with $1,000 scholarships to help recognize and grow the potential of those students.

“The initiative’s programming encourages all participants to work hard to achieve their dreams and aspirations and recognizes that for a lot of the participants college is not only intimidating but expensive,” said Geovanny Sarmiento, the chamber’s senior vice president of community engagement and inclusion. “Active participation in the LEAD Rogers program has proven effective in improving academic performance and increasing students pursuing a college degree.”

Each year Rogers High School staff fundraise by auctioning off baked good and handmade crafts to give a scholarship to graduating children of RHS staff. This year the $1,500 they raised was divided between four students.

Rogers Heritage High School alumni are also giving back. Each year, a group of former Heritage soccer players pool their money and give a helping hand to a graduating senior soccer player. This year Ivan Perez received this special $500 scholarship.

Rogers High School 2022 graduate Emma Ronck was one of this year’s recipients of numerous local scholarships as well as nearly $1 million in college scholarship offers.

“Being the first kid in my family, I didn’t know the amount of scholarships that were available to apply for,” Ronck said.

Headed to Notre Dame to study neuroscience and compassionate care in preparation for a medical degree, Ronck said she greatly appreciated the community support so evident at the scholarship ceremony.

“It was amazing to get to see all of those people come and support Rogers and the high school students there,” Ronck said.