As the plane descended from the sky and the scholars made their way through the airport doors, a “Welcome to Chicago!” banner greeted them in the entryway. On the way to their luggage, a “Welcome Elks Scholars” sign held by a friendly face told them they were in the right place for the fifth annual Most Valuable Student Leadership Weekend.
There might as well have been a third sign at the hotel for the event: Welcome Home. The scholars bonded quickly through their ambition, goals and drive to succeed. They spent the first night getting to know one another, and themselves, through a series of leadership activities.
“I had the best time learning more about my strengths while simultaneously growing in my leadership skills,” says Ellie Gex, sponsored by Katy, Texas, Lodge No. 2628.
These activities also helped prepare the scholars for a video interview and an in-person interview with the national judges for the top scholarships. Like many of the scholars, Natalie MacEwan, sponsored by Canoga Park, Calif., Lodge No. 2190, shared stories from her life that show the importance of the Most Valuable Student scholarship. To Natalie, it means people believe in her.
“I knew I was going to be extremely inspired after this weekend, and I’ll be taking home more than just a scholarship—friendships, networking opportunities, and being a part of the Elks organization,” Natalie says.
The scholars also served together at the Jesse Brown V.A. Medical Center in Chicago. Maitland Thull sponsored by Mobile, Ala., Lodge No. 108, had an unforgettable experience singing "Happy Birthday" to a World War II veteran who was soon turning 97.
“It was amazing that we got to be in that place with that man,” Maitland says. “I feel like we did such a tiny dent in the scope of veterans…but keep doing that dent over and over again, and it gets bigger, and that’s encouraging.”
The weekend ended with a dinner cruise on Lake Michigan to celebrate the scholars and their new beginnings. The future is bright with these students leading the charge, and this weekend wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Elks.
“[Leadership Weekend] was truly transformative because I learned so much about myself and how to relate to others,” says Bob Schofner, sponsored by Brandon, Fla., Lodge No. 2383. “I am very honored and grateful to be selected as one of the Finalists.”
View photos from the weekend on the flickr album here.
Click here to meet the top winners of the 2018 MVS scholarships.
For 2018-19, the Elks National Foundation allocated $2.9 million to fund the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, which includes 500 four-year scholarships ranging from $4,000 to $50,000. For more information about the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, including eligibility and deadlines, visit enf.elks.org/MVS.