Kodiak: Deborah Bitanga

“Through the Gates Millennium Scholarship, I became my best advocate during challenging situations and became more passionate to pursue my dreams.”

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Deborah Bitanga is a Senior at Kodiak High School and a 2015 Gates Scholarship Winner. Her mentor is Bonnie Dillard.

Reflection on Being a 2015 Gates Millennium Scholarship Winner

Receiving the “big packet” was beyond my wildest dreams. While going through the challenging application process, there were moments I wanted to give up and I often battled with self-doubt. But now I realize that with great challenges come pivotal moments in life that ripple for years.

I was 12 when I left the Philippines in 2009 to join my father in Kodiak Island. With perseverance throughout the years, I am now a GATES MILLENNIUM SCHOLAR of 2015. Once a quiet Filipino student who couldn’t courageously say “Hi” to fellow students and teachers, I am now representing the most supportive community I belong to, Kodiak Island.

I owe my future to the community of people, my family, relatives, teachers, counselors, librarians, mentors, community members and friends who supported me throughout this great challenge of constructing eight essays. And most importantly to Tad and Dean for their endless encouragement, pushing me out of my comfort zone and providing me wisdom and courage to believe in the beauty of my future. All the tears and struggles have provided me the opportunity to dream big without limits.

2015 Reflection on Gates Millennium Scholarship Application Experience

My journey of applying for the GATES Millennium Scholarship began with multiple Google searches which lead me to the Talk Story Write Story website. I was inspired after reading the stories of students and teachers. I messaged Martina Brown, a 2014 GATES Scholar and I also emailed Mr. McClory and Mrs. O’Brien of Ketchikan High School who kindly connected me to Tad and Dean. I received guidance and encouragement from them through emails and Skype sessions at least once a week.

At first everything was chaotic. My own counselor was not very supportive of my attempt for the GATES. I became doubtful of my ability to finish the whole application, but I persevered in getting all the pieces together. Amidst the chaos, I created a list of teachers and community members that could help me with the complex process. I seek help from my English teacher, Mr. Jackson who openly shared his personal experiences in order to inspire ideas for my eight essays. I also worked during the weekends with the Kodiak College librarian and writer, Sara Loewen. She provided strict deadlines for my drafts, which disciplined and motivated me to write my story. Then another Kodiak High School counselor, Mrs. Beardsley, assisted me with the first 12 pages of my application.

The week before finals was a stressful time. The struggles of juggling an after school job, multiple club meetings, school works, scholarship and college application deadlines, and family responsibilities pushed me to the edge of giving up. However, the feelings and memories evoked as I reflected back to my past propelled me to continue writing my story. I sneaked several times out of my 7th hour Art class in order to write my essays. At home, I had endless conversations with my brother about my hardships, failures, accomplishments, and aspirations. I also asked my parents about their life experiences, regrets, hopes, and dreams, which inspired my essay responses.s I shed many tears as I drafted every essay.

During the winter break, I constantly emailed and called my Recommender, Mrs. Dillard and Nominator, Mrs. Eisemann. They patiently contacted other community members about my leadership and community involvements.

A week before the deadline for the scholarship, I lost my motivation and stopped working on my essays. One afternoon, I received a lot of emails from Tad and Dean. Dean’s words, “You are standing looking at the finish line but not moving.  This is not the time for fear this is the time to show your stuff and finish the race. Skype with us and let’s work it out whatever it is. We are here all day and night til the deadline. We can help if you let us,” sparked a determination to continue the journey.

Through the Gates Millennium Scholarship, I became my best advocate during challenging situations and became more passionate to pursue my dreams. The intense writing taught me to express myself creatively. My assertiveness and determination might have allowed me to gather adult mentors to guide and support me, but without their willingness to invest their time and energy throughout the rigorous application, I would not have successfully finished the whole application.