More Than Memories: The 2024 MVS Leadership Weekend

The senior spring semester of high school brings a wide range of emotions: excitement, relief, sadness, fear. No matter how prepared one may feel for the next stage of life, a strong support system is important to help cope with these feelings.

Support systems can be hard to gain—especially ones that understand the challenges of transitioning to college. An Elks scholarship is more than financial aid; it’s an invitation to join a strong, supportive community: the #ElksFamily.

The Top 20 Most Valuable Student scholars got to experience this community firsthand in April, when they came to Chicago for the 2024 MVS Leadership Weekend. Though they were only together for three days, the Top 20 left Chicago with more than just memories.

“The Leadership Weekend taught me that the Elks are not just an organization, but they are family,” says Rohil Agarwal, sponsored by New Port Richey, Fla., Lodge No. 2284. “I constantly felt welcomed and inspired by the Elks team, the scholar leaders, and the other 2024 Elks MVS Finalists.”

The Top 20 winners each receive a $30,000 scholarship, and the weekend focus is on leadership programming, cultivating relationships with one another, and gaining a greater understanding of the Elks.

After an opening night that included warm welcomes at the airport, initial ice breakers, and a competitive game of trivia, the scholars began their first full day of the weekend with a visit to the Elks National Veterans Memorial and Headquarters. The scholars’ jaws dropped when they saw the ornate beauty and detail of the nearly 100-year-old building.

Once the initial shock dissipated, the scholars explored the building with a scavenger hunt and listened to presentations about the Community Investments Program, the Elks Hoop Shoot, and the Elks National Veterans Service Commission.

"I really enjoyed learning more about the ENF at the Elks National Veterans Memorial,” says Leslie Monter, sponsored by Easton, Md., Lodge No. 1622. “Prior to the MVS Leadership Weekend, I had very basic knowledge regarding the Elks and their mission; the scavenger hunt was a great way to learn about the rich history of the Elks."

From the Jolly Corks to the Elks of today, service has been at the heart of what it means to be part of the #ElksFamily. At Cradles to Crayons, the Top 20 got their first chance to join this longstanding tradition.

Cradles to Crayons is a nonprofit organization that provides children ages birth to 12 living in under-resourced areas with the essential items they need to thrive at home, at school and at play.

For two hours, the scholars sorted clothes from donation bags, keeping in mind the organization’s belief that quality equals dignity.

“I greatly appreciated the volunteer work that we did at Cradles to Crayons,” says Monter. “I think that the core of the Elks is about community and service, so I enjoyed being able to give back to the Chicago area through an organization like Cradles to Crayons.”

A strong support system is often made up of people who share common experiences and feelings, and with the Tell My Story activity, the scholars realized they had a lot more in common than they originally thought. Though all they had was a sheet of paper and a marker to write down the stories of their lives, the conversations that ensued were worth far more than one thousand words.

"The Tell My Story activity let all of the scholars bond so much and led us to have a 10 times deeper connection,” says Agarwal, who shared his love of Lightning McQueen and science YouTuber Mark Rober.

Scholar leaders kicked off the next morning by hosting workshops that were designed to maximize college success, including building one’s personal brand. In the afternoon, esteemed alumni Sean Loosli, Jay Little Cunningham, Bryce Caswell, and Scholar Advisory Board President Liz Radway hosted a panel for the students to ask questions about college and beyond.

That night, scholars were given the chance to continue forming bonds with their new #ElksFamily by enjoying some of the best Chicago has to offer. They took pictures by the iconic Buckingham Fountain, then made their way to Navy Pier for a dinner cruise on Lake Michigan. From “Footloose” to “Cupid Shuffle,” every scholar was eager to hit the dance floor with their new community.

The final hours of the night were spent reflecting on the impactful experiences of the weekend.

"It was an absolutely incredible experience to be in such a nurturing environment filled with such diverse backgrounds and stories,” says Shani Tursunova, sponsored by Florence, Ky., Lodge No. 314. “I left the weekend feeling empowered and inspired to connect with my community and to achieve my aspirations."

As they enter their next stages of life, these scholars will feel a wide range of emotions; with their new #ElksFamily, they will never be alone.

"The Leadership Weekend was a revelation, opening my eyes to endless possibilities in service and fostering meaningful friendships,” says Maher Harp, sponsored by Dearborn, Mich., Lodge No. 1945. “Given the profound impact of that experience, I am wholeheartedly committed to seizing every opportunity to further enrich my involvement with the Elks community."

For 2024-25, the Elks National Foundation allocated nearly $2.9 million to fund the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, which includes 500 four-year scholarships ranging from $4,000 to $30,000. For more information about the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, including eligibility and deadlines, visit

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