OAKLAND -- When Maya Bello stepped onstage Oct. 28 at Holy Names High School on to receive a giant Nordstrom TEN4U Scholarship check for $10,000, she was not the recipient of polite applause. Instead, excitement rang from the rafters as the student body erupted into happiness, honoring their well-liked classmate with a spontaneous, exuberant standing ovation.
The support and response was not surprising in this small, close-knit school, especially when students realized that Bello was only one of 80 teenagers nationwide to receive the scholarship out of almost 12,000 who applied. The independent scholarship recognizes seniors across the United States for exceptional scholastic achievement and community involvement and is a significant honor for Bello and her school.
In Bello, Principal Colleen Curran and math teacher Linda Brownell see a young woman who has put herself forward to work for the betterment of the school and others. Brownell recalled how Bello's interest in American Sign Language as an avenue toward communicating with her special-needs brother expanded into the school community.
"In conjunction with another student, she started an American Sign Language Club, teaching Holy Names students to sign and she signed some of our Masses," Brownell said.
In another example, Brownell explained that Bello's work as a peer tutor led to the formation of a writing lab, and she concluded with an apt description of Bello's contributions.
"Most of our students, as seniors, are just learning to be advocates for themselves," Brownell said. "Maya started out as an advocate for herself in eighth grade and has already learned how to be an advocate for other people."
Curran referred to Bello's leadership as one of her most distinguishing characteristics, describing Bello as a quiet, listen-to-others leader. Aside from her strong grades and academic courses, Bello has the ability and desire to improve what's around her.
"Maya looks around the environment and asks how she can make it better, how she can be involved," Curran said. "That's what I like about her; she really cares about the life of the community here."
Bello had applied for the scholarship during her junior year, though she felt unsure about her qualifications and -- because the idea is to "surprise" the recipient -- knew nothing until the announcement at the assembly.
"I'm still in shock," Bello said. "When my name was announced, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I was dancing in my room at home with the big check; I was so happy."
When asked why she felt she was selected, Bello reflected on her years on student council, serving as president this year, her work with the Model United Nations and the creativity she applied in the essays she submitted, as well as her letter of recommendation from Brownell.
The scholarship will go directly to college tuition, though Bello has not yet decided which school she will attend, mentioning an application she submitted after receiving the scholarship that she "doesn't want to jinx." Regardless of her college destination, the thoughtful, ready-with-a-smile senior was anxious to express her feelings about being honored.
"I'm really grateful for this scholarship, and I thank my family and teachers," she said. "One of my favorite parts of October 28 was when I went onstage to receive my scholarship. Everyone was so happy -- it really touched my heart."
Beyond the recognition of one outstanding student, the $10,000 Nordstrom TEN4U Scholarship sends an important message to the student body at Holy Names High School. What happened for Bello could happen for another young woman with college aspirations, and Bello has some advice for them.
"I would say to dream big and don't be afraid to try new things," she said. "Have a goal in your head; it doesn't matter how big, and just work every day toward that. But also have fun with it, live your life and don't be afraid to reach what you think is impossible."