Rejected Scholarships

It was 20 years ago today: Untold Stories from the Youth Ministry Center

Today’s Episode: Rejected Scholarships

The after-school mentoring program was offered to students from the Glendale cluster of schools across the street from the Youth Ministry Center.

At the time I was serving as the chaplain for the Armenian Students at USC and I made a quick connection between the two groups. Student from USC would volunteer once or twice a week as a mentor at the Center. They would help with homework, but more importantly they would mentor their younger “brothers” and “sisters” in the paths of higher education.

Our mentoring program had established a name in Glendale. It was a model program.

One day, the principal from Glendale High School called me. Glendale High was Hoover High’s cross town rival, but the call had nothing to do with rivalry nor with Hoover High. The principal confessed that she was confounded by a string of events that just didn’t add up.

At Glendale High, she had several students of Armenian backgrounds, who were high-achievers and had scored very high in college board and SAT tests, granting them admission and scholarships into some of the most prestigious universities in the nation.

That didn’t sound like a problem to me. The unexpected is what followed. She continued, several of these students had rejected admission, scholarships, even full-rides to the best-of-the-best universities in the U.S.  I had a hard time understanding this, until she listed the universities, they were all out of the area – Stanford, Harvard, Colombia, Berkeley. They had not rejected admissions to either of the two main local universities – USC or UCLA. I didn’t need to do any detective work, the principal explained that the parents of these bright students were the ones blocking the paths to higher education. They didn’t want their children to leave home, and so they bribed them with high-end cars. The formula was: reject the university, here’s a Mercedes and go to Glendale Community College.

As someone who had to take out loans and pay for university education, I just could not even imagine how someone could turn away a full-ride to these universities. I mean, what’s the process of rejection? How do you throw away that letter of acceptance? Do you answer back, sorry, I decided I’m going to GCC?

Furthermore, these were not isolated incidents. It was as if the parents had organized a resistance movement based on their fears.

The principal was just as confounded as me and asked for help. I turned this over to the mentors, to the USC ASA student. The principal organized a parent-info evening and my ASA came out en force. It was an evening of open and candid conversation. The students presented strong arguments, accented with presentations about the importance of higher education. They fielded questions and gave persuasive answers. We left Glendale High School that night with a sense of accomplishment. They listened and heard not from me, but from those who had walked down this path.

We are currently in Eastertide, a few weeks after Easter and before Ascension Day. In the period following the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to several people and crowds for 40 days, after which he ascended to heaven (Acts 1). Most of the evangelism in the first century was by Jesus’ followers, and certainly it follows, that most of the Christian Church for the last 2000 years has been evangelized by Jesus followers. Every day and period have their unique challenges based on the circumstances. That night at Glendale High School we learned a lot about the community. The parents were recent immigrants who had struggled to bring their children to this country to enjoy the freedom they had only heard of. Now they understood there was more to America than the dream. Whereas in the traditional Armenian family children stayed and lived at home until they were of age to start their own families, the American reality gave chances for the children to pursue their dreams on a different time-table.  For the first time in the family’s long history, children were academically smarter than their parents and if that reality was not presented diplomatically, it could blow up in unexpected ways. Also, the material glitter of America had lured to many into believing that the material wealth was an end in itself. Finally, for me, as the head of this mentoring project, it was important to allow the students to talk. In this case there was more power in the advice when it came from peers, rather than me.

The Youth Ministry was an experiment. This was uncharted territory. In many ways, so is the Christian Church, so is life. Each day and each time have their own circumstances demanding us to act and address them accordingly. Sermons, messages and direction must take into account the times and the conditions under which the message is given. It’s the call to relevance.

Join me tomorrow as we continue with stories from the Youth Ministries Center from 20 years ago today.

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