Photos by Ty Swenson
13th Year Promise Scholarship recipients get a full year of school at South Seattle Community College paid for. Five of 100 2013 recipients talked about their plans for the future at SSCC's Olympic Hall on Sept. 12. From right to left, Trevhonne James, Joe Thayer, Marissa Evans, Fatima Muse and Aaliya Kish. PLEASE CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE OR SEE BELOW THE STORY FOR MORE.

SSCC’s 13th Year Scholarships open doors to great unknown

In an age of ever-rising tuition costs, college is becoming a distant dream for many teens and their parents who simply cannot afford the bill.

Starting in 2008, the South Seattle Community College Foundation has been bucking that trend of fiscal impossibility with their 13th Year Promise Scholarship that currently offers graduating seniors (that’s ALL graduating seniors) of Cleveland and Chief Sealth International High Schools one year of free tuition at South.

The only catch: They just have to apply for the scholarship and school on time.

The program, funded through a combination of financial aid and donor contributions, started with Cleveland students in 2008 and expanded to Sealth in 2011. According to SSCC President Gary Oertli, the Foundation hopes to grow the 13th year fund and eventually expand into Rainier Beach and West Seattle High Schools.

This year, 100 students took advantage of the 13th Year Scholarship (their largest class to date) and on Sept. 23 they will start their first days of college. For many, including Sealth graduate Joe Thayer, this is a family first.

“This is our future, and we are given a chance to do this,” Thayer said. “I’m setting examples for my family too. I’m the first to go to college. I’m adopted, so I’m first from my birth family and first from my current family.”

On Sept. 12 the majority of students who were awarded a 13th Year scholarship came to SSCC’s Olympic Hall, fresh off three days of intense college orientation and math/English training they jokingly referred to as “boot camp,” to hear from school President Gary Oertli and others.

Oertli grew up in West Seattle, graduated from Sealth, and was the first of his family to attend college.

“If you go to college and graduate, the chances of your children graduating increase by 400 percent,” Oertli said to the incoming 13th Year class. “What I’m most proud of is not all of the stuff that I did … it is because both of my kids have now graduated from college. If I drop dead tomorrow, that’s what I’m most proud of. You are doing this not only for yourself, but for your potential family.”

Foundation Chair Gene Colin, CEO of Ferguson Construction, also spoke to the teens.

“I was there that day when the idea of the 13th Year was given birth … and it was obvious that this was what this foundation at this institution had to do - had to do, not want to do - for everyone one of you sitting here,” Colin said.

As the old axiom goes, luck favors the well prepared.

“You’ll have luck, no question about it, because you are well prepared,” said Colin.

In addition to getting their first year paid in full, 13th Year students are also armed with a slew of student support services throughout that time – from College 101 sessions to COMPASS placement workshops, a single 13th Year point of contact, and the math/English “boot camp” kids just endured.

13th Year traditionally serves low income students, but all graduating seniors from participating schools can apply. According to the program’s 2012 statistics, 60 percent were first generation college students.

Illustrating a diverse student body served (of the total 2012 class) 38 percent were African American, 35 percent were Asian American/Pacific Islander, 12 percent were Hispanic/Latino, 14 percent were white, and three percent were Native American.

Oertli was also pleased to announce a trend emerging with 13th Year students: They are seemingly far less likely than the general population to drop out during or after that first year of school.

During the Sept. 12 ceremony five students were brought to the front of the Olympic Hall auditorium to talk about their experience with the 13th Year program so far. Aaliya Kish, Trevhonne James, Fatima Muse, Joe Thayer and Marissa Evans shared their far reaching passions and goals – from microbiology to health care to elementary education and law school. Nearly 80 students were in attendance, all of them having made that first big step in securing a bright future.

“13th Year is a chance, you know,” Thayer said. “For me, I did not know the direction I was going to go (until he learned of the program).”

“I think this opportunity is a great one,” Chief Sealth alumni and incoming SSCC student Camryn Harris said. “It just helps people who aren’t as fortunate get into college.”

Harris said he would have likely never sat down in a college classroom if not for 13th Year. And while he’s undecided on just what he’ll major in, he’s thrilled to be entering the great unknown.

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