Ketchikan: Keenan Sanderson

“This process created a lot of stress for me, but that is a small price to pay when you are running for the future. “

  • U of NH SMART Program, Summer 2014

Keenan Sanderson is a Senior at Ketchikan High School and a 2015 Gates Scholarship Finalist. His mentor is Robert McClory.

2015 Reflection on Gates Millennium Scholarship Application Experience

In the second semester of my junior year my guidance counselor, Robert McClory, introduced me to the Gates Millennium Scholarship (GMS).  At first I ignored it because I thought I had better things to do in life, but after about the 1,000th time of being asked about it, I caved in and agreed to work on it. This decision proved to be a life-changing experience.

I was told to look at the eight GMS essays and give them some thought over the summer break, which again I must thank Robert McClory for, because I would have been sitting on my little island doing nothing.  With his help, I was able to go to Alaska Boys State, where I learned skills about becoming a better leader, and he also hooked me up with a month-long college science program, SMART, at the University of New Hampshire, where I earned four college credits.  This proved to be beneficial in more ways than one. It was the first time I had been any farther than Tacoma, Washington.  At first, being at SMART was a real culture shock, but I adapted, and as a result I made lifelong friends that I still talk to every day.

Upon returning from the East Coast, I was introduced to two people who would become a common sight on Skype and in my emails for five months, Tad and Dean Wariner.  I still remember the day when we first met.  I was Skyping from my uncle’s house with all of my family in the background, with my Blue heeler  “photobombing” the shot from time to time.  These two people from Hana, Hawaii proved to be more supporting, and motivating than I could have ever thought possible.  After our first meeting, they warned me that I was in for a long crazy ride; they did not disappoint.

I unfortunately had a late start, which I can only blame on myself.  For those who read this: DO NOT PROCRASTINATE FOR EVEN A SECOND!! Otherwise, you’ll be cramming your social life, schoolwork, college applications, and the Gates into a more condensed time frame.  And let me tell you, that is not a fun thing to do.

As far as essays went, I pondered on them for a good amount of time before I actually started writing them.  This was to find out what I actually wanted to write about, how I wanted to say it, and what would be the most impacting story for each topic.  But I was always open to change if later I had found that another story would be better for that essay, especially for essays 3,6,7, and 8.

I didn’t know what I was going to write on No. 6 until I went to Washington, D.C. (my third trip to the East Coast in less than five months!) to represent my Haida and Tlingit community as a youth ambassador at the White House Tribal Nations Conference. That is where I realized how much potential my leadership skills could actually become if I kept developing them.  Even before I went to Washington, Mr. McClory, Tad and Dean all were urging me to use that experience as my GMS No. 6, and to take notes on everything that happened to me there, and what I thought about the experience and how it affected me.

Proof-reading over and over again, I was able to craft essays of which I was very proud—ones that really encapsulated my past, my life now and the future about which I dreamed. Crafting my essays was harder than I ever thought possible. Moral of the story? Revise like you want to win the Gates.

Once my eight essays were finished it was time to fill out the rest of my application, which ended up to be a total of 31 pages in length. I must have spent over 50 hours alone on the rest of the application to insure it accurately portrayed all the life experiences I wanted to convey to the readers. Mr. McClory would occasionally review it and provide some feedback that kept me on track.

Overall, my experience as a Gates nominee has had a lot of ups and downs.  This process created a lot of stress for me, but that is a small price to pay when you are running for the future.  My most important recommendation for future young people applying for a GMS is DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. If you start early and keep working hard straight through, you can enjoy free time more.  Also, ask for all the help you can get from your counselor, teachers, and mentors like Tad and Dean. I know they want me to win up to 10-years of free education because they dedicated themselves to helping me.

Senior year is full of challenges and obligations. Adding on the pressure of writing the Gates Millennium Scholarship can be daunting, but the satisfaction of finishing and submitting it is a feeling that you will remember for a lifetime.

“Nothing in this world becomes yours if you don’t move to acquire it.”  ~ Marika Tachibana