As Greenwich High School students and their families made their way to school on Thursday evening it was muggy and a light drizzle fell.
The conditions were not much more comfortable inside the school's auditorium where they gathered. With the school's air-conditioning system faltering, audience members needed to fan themselves with their programs and open the auditorium doors to ventilate the venue.
But a few inconveniences couldn't put a damper on this very special evening -- not even a little.
In one of the marquee events of the school year, the Greenwich Scholarship Association honored local high school seniors during its annual awards ceremony. Some 123 college-bound students received scholarships worth a total of more than $522,000 from more than 100 local sponsors. This year's awards mark the largest total ever given in the organization's history.
"It's great that the town shows such an interest in every individual, regardless of where you come from or what economic situation you're in," said Greenwich High senior Sarah Zygmont, who will attend New York University. "I think it's great that they tailor to every single type of person."
Scholarship recipients are generally in the top third of their graduating classes and have participated in several extracurricular activities, while also working in paid off-campus jobs. In most cases, the students' colleges have already awarded a financial aid package to them. GSA tries to bridge the gap between college assistance and what the students' families can pay.
"It can be extremely stressful and burdening to have all of this tuition from all of these colleges," said Greenwich High senior Jonathan Harrington, who will attend the University of Connecticut in Stamford. "Any money that you get helps. This is a great opportunity to help alleviate that financial stress."
GSA was founded in 1972 as an umbrella organization to support the administrative needs of nearly 30 scholarship funds set up by local community organizations and families. Since its founding, GSA has awarded more than $10 million in scholarships.
Today, GSA manages scholarships from the scores of sponsors and its own endowment of more than $6 million.
"I have never been so aware of the generous and reliable heart of this community," Marie Hertzig, GSA's president, said at the start of Thursday's ceremony. "You, the sponsors, have revealed this in the many scholarships you give each year. Repeatedly, sponsors with your own families and obligations come forward and significantly increase their donations."
The sponsored awards administered by GSA include those established by local businesses, community organizations and families.
Individual scholarships range between $500 and $10,000.
"You have all these people outside Greenwich who say we're just rich kids, and we all know that that's so completely wrong," said Greenwich High senior Destiny Sammut, who will attend Eastern Connecticut State University. "The Greenwich Scholarship Association realizes that some kids don't have as much money as the others, and they want to help."
"Socio-economically, Greenwich is very diverse, and I think that's one of the positives of this town," she said. "The Greenwich Scholarship Association is now allowing everyone to really have the same opportunities to pursue higher education."
About 40 percent of GSA's sponsored awards are memorial scholarships, established by families in memory of young people lost to illness, accident and even crime. For instance, the Brian Thomas Macken Scholarship honors the late Brian Macken, who died in 2011.
A 2009 Greenwich High graduate, Brian won the FCIAC championship as a member of the school's ice hockey team in his senior year. This year's recipient of the $1,000 award, Mark Schmeiler, was also a varsity ice hockey player at the high school.
"Like our son, he will always be remembered for being a really great friend and teammate and somebody who quietly helped others through community service," said Laura Macken, mother of Brian, as she presented the award. "What makes it even more special for my husband and I is that we have had the pleasure of watching this recipient grow from being a 7-year-old Greenwich Blues Mite A hockey player to being this year's captain on the varsity ice hockey team."
This year's new awards include: The Margaret Murphy Memorial Award, the Sacred Heart Parish Award, the Greenwich Dental Society Award, the Class of 1963 Award, The Bruno Vacarezza Memorial Award, the Tikkun Olam Steinberg Foundation Award, the Kelly Romaniello Memorial Award, the Ketan Tamm Memorial Award and the John Desmond Ott Memorial Award.
The GSA administrative team includes 25 board members from the Greenwich community. Together, they log more than 1,500 volunteer hours each year, overseeing the application process, reviewing candidates and bestowing awards.
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