Same, But Different

America’s melting pot was on full display during the Most Valuable Student scholarship’s Leadership Weekend in Chicago. In its sixth year, the contest brought Top Finalists from small towns and big cities; from K-Pop enthusiasts to deep-sea fishing fanatics; from first- to third-generation Americans; and from both coasts to share who they are and how they landed in Chicago.

The group jumped right into discovering and sharing their truths during a “Tell Your Story” workshop. Lifted by the support of their peers, each scholar told stories about their families, the adversities they’ve faced, and their hopes, dreams and goals. Their vulnerability allowed them to turn from strangers to friends in just a few days.

“Although we come from different backgrounds, we all found something we had in common with each other,” says Tabitha Escalante, sponsored by Maumee-BG, Ohio, Lodge No. 1850. “I made amazing friendships that will last a lifetime.”

On Friday, the finalists had a unique opportunity to have breakfast with the ENF’s Board of Trustees before packing hygiene kits that they later hand-delivered to veterans at the Jesse Brown V.A. Medical Center. Many scholars noted that it was their first time visiting a V.A. medical center and said they were excited to volunteer with ones in their communities. The scholars and veterans played a game of charades, bringing lots of laughs and joy to the room.

“My favorite part of the weekend was watching the scholars play charades with the veterans at Jesse Brown,” says John Kavula, the Elks Scholar Fellow at the Elks National Foundation. “Everyone was so happy to be there, and the smiles everyone had is something I’ll always remember.”

Camryn Franke, sponsored by Minneapolis, Minn., Lodge No. 44, is in the Navy’s Junior ROTC program at her school. Volunteering at the V.A. and getting to hear veterans’ stories was an especially memorable moment for Camryn.

“I had never been to a V.A. Medical Center and it was such a great experience,” Camryn says. “I’m excited to work with my local V.A.”

With Saturday came the culmination of the weekend: interviews with the national judges to determine who would be receiving the top awards. The workshops throughout the weekend were exercises meant to help the scholars feel comfortable retelling their stories during the interviews with the judges.

After the interviews were done, the scholars took a trip to the Willis Tower Skydeck. They climbed 1,450 feet to see that the city and the world were theirs for the taking. That night, the scholars sat back, relaxed and reflected during a dinner cruise along the Chicago River. Jake Mann, sponsored by Fort Myers, Fla., Lodge No. 1288, knows this will be the first of many weekends spent with his Elks family.

“I learned that the Elks community is something that I’ll be a part of for the rest of my life,” Jake says. “This weekend was just the beginning!”

While Leadership Weekend brought the ENF its MVS top winners, that’s not all it did. As one finalist put it, “Even though we’re here because of the Elks’ scholarship, I haven’t thought about the money. It’s all about the people.” Each finalist left with an Elks family.

We’re pleased to announce the 2019 MVS Top Winners.

In third place, Seamus Hoolahan, sponsored by Anaconda, Mont., Lodge No. 239 and Ann Raymer, sponsored by Farmington, Mo., Lodge No. 1765, will each receive $30,000 toward their college education. In second place, Rio Bonham, sponsored by Durant, Okla., Lodge No. 1963, and Emily Sanchez, sponsored by Longmont, Colo., Lodge No. 1055, will each receive $40,000. And in first place, taking home $50,000 scholarships, are Victor Ramirez, sponsored by South Miami/Coral Gables, Fla., Lodge No. 1676, and Tabitha Escalante, sponsored by Maumee-BG, Ohio, Lodge No. 1850.

Congratulations to the MVS Finalists and Top Winners.

For 2019-20, 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

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