Lincoln-Way Central student wins essay contest, offered full tuition scholarship
Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Lincoln-Way Central student Kayla Szymanski isn’t your typical risk-taker. “I am not a risky person by any means, especially with my writing because I take it very seriously,” she says. But when put on-the-spot during an essay contest for an opportunity to gain full tuition, Szymanski pushed her creative abilities to the limit, earning herself a full tuition scholarship.

Szymanski first applied to Central Michigan University (CMU) after visiting the campus in the fall of 2017. Before knowing whether or not she would be accepted, she began looking for scholarships online to help fund her potential CMU education.

In her search, Szymanski discovered the Centralis Scholarship Competition for the school’s prestigious Honors Scholar Program. The Honors Scholar Program is “an academic experience for high academic ability students who seek to aim higher and achieve more.” In order to apply, high school seniors must have a minimum 3.7 GPA, a 27 ACT score, and already be accepted into CMU. Szymanski’s GPA and test scores met the requirements, but at the time, she was still waiting on a CMU acceptance letter.

“They don’t send the Centralis scholarship application until you’ve been admitted to the school,” she says. “I didn’t get accepted until the day before the competition, so I had to get the entire application done in one day.”

The application asks students to provide personal information regarding grades, coursework and awards, as well as participation in school and community. It required essays regarding diversity, overcoming challenges, as well as a personal statement regarding a piece of literature, art or music. The application also called for a creative project “to express an interpretation of yourself and why you would be a great fit for the honors program,” says Szymanski. She had 24 hours to complete the requirements before participating in the largest part of the scholarship: the live competition essay.

The day after rushing to submit her application for the scholarship, Szymanski attended the competition essay portion of the application process. Students viewed a presentation regarding what the judges sought to learn from their essays; judges reminded the applicants to showcase their talents, abilities, and originality by “taking risks.”

Despite not knowing the application question beforehand, Szymanski’s creative abilities kicked in. “I usually come up with my best ideas when planning everything out, but I came up with this idea on the spot,” she says. The essay question asked the students to write about two people of historical significance—dead or alive—that they would invite to a dinner conversation. “I chose myself at age 7 and at age 40,” says Szymanski. “That way, I could look back on where I came from and see if my morals are still the same as what my family raised me to be, and I could look into the future to have someone reassure me that I can succeed and achieve what I want.”

During the second week in December, Szymanski received a letter in the mail. ““I was astonished,” she says. “I had kind of forgotten about it because I was unsure if I was going to be given that prestigious opportunity, but I opened it in the kitchen with my family and was just so excited.” The letter was confirmation that Szymanski’s creative and “risky” response had earned her a full tuition scholarship to the Honors Scholar Program. “I decided I wanted to take this one risk, and I think it paid off,” she says.