Tracy Boyer will study early education at Southern Connecticut State University next semester, a result of hard work, good grades and support from the Staples Tuition Grants organization, which on Tuesday distributed $320,000 to 113 Staples High School students and alumni.

About half of the awardees attended the ceremony at the high school.

Without that financial support it is unlikely Boyer, 17, could afford a college education. “It means everything. We came from a poor country (Haiti). My parents couldn’t afford me going to college,” said Boyer, who helps her parents pay bills by working a part-time job. “I’m the first in my family to go to college,” she said at the reception that followed the awards ceremony.

The Staples Tuition Grants program was established in 1943 and that year about $100 was awarded, according to guest speaker Ann Sheffer. It has swelled to 83 named awards with more than $300,000 each year.

“It’s nice to know people in Westport are so generous,” said Kyle Mikesh, 21, who is studying international business at Marist College. He and his sister Emma Mikesh, 19, a Marist student on a public health track, both received tuition grants this year.

Sheffer spoke about the Doug Sheffer Memorial Award, named for her brother. Doug Sheffer was a 1968 graduate of Staples, active in Staples Players as a member of the technical staff, as well as the band, and a member of the state championship wrestling team. A helicopter pilot, Sheffer died last year in a helicopter accident at age 63.

The Doug Sheffer Memorial Award went to Jack Baylis, 18, who will study musical theater at Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts. Baylis said he was honored to receive the tuition grant and for the vote of confidence from strangers.

“You don’t know the people (but) they make a difference. People see something in you. These people who don’t even know you are taking a leap of faith,” said Baylis, who promised Ann Sheffer in a thank-you note to “try to honor Doug by having the whole college experience.”

Eight new awards were announced this year, including a tuition grant named for Staples Principal John Dodig, who will retire at the end of this academic year. Dodig gave certificates to Luis Cruz and Sophia Hampton, the two seniors who received the John M. Dodig tuition grant.

In her speech, Megumi Asada, Staples Class of 2013, a “rising junior and recently declared math major” at Williams College, told seniors not to feel pressured to strive for concrete accomplishments to justify the financial support. “Being a student is enough … All this support is to help develop a version of you that you can’t even imagine yet.”

Asada, who received a tuition grant for the third year in a row, also thanked the donors for their support for herself and the other recipients. “It makes a big difference,” she said.

The reception allowed grant recipients to meet donors and thank them personally, and to learn from donors why they support the program. Lisa Esneault of Praxair said “from a global giving perspective one of our main priorities is supporting the communities where our employees live and work.”