Elmhurst University has named Romeoville High School senior Ella Boyden the 2023 winner of the American Dream Fellowship Competition, awarding her a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to attend Elmhurst U. this fall.
And for the first time, Elmhurst named two second-place winners—twin brothers Eduardo and Alejandro Lopez Esqueda, both seniors at Rolling Meadows High School. Each will receive a $10,000 renewable scholarship to attend Elmhurst.
Elmhurst University launched the annual American Dream Fellowship Competition in 2018 to celebrate and reward first-generation college students. To enter, first-generation college students who have been admitted to Elmhurst were asked to submit a video with their take on this topic: “The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success. What is your version of success?”
About 110 high school students entered this year’s competition. They and their families then were invited to come to Elmhurst U.—in person or remotely—on April 1 for Round 2, where they met other contest participants, took part in a group project, and joined a panel discussion with current first-generation Elmhurst students.
The day culminated in an awards ceremony hosted by University President Troy D. VanAken, a first-generation college student himself. During the ceremony, each participant was recognized and presented with a $1,000 scholarship; and the winning group project, as well as the first- and second-place winners, were announced.
Addressing the students, President VanAken recalled his college experience, and how it inspired him to devote his career to working with other young people at this pivotal point in their lives.
“I have that same hope for you, that the power of education will transform your lives.” he said. “The American Dream is alive, and education is at the forefront of it.”
In her first-place video, Boyden, who plans to major in music theatre, begins by wondering aloud whether she has achieved enough to be considered successful. Especially when conventional definitions of success, “twisted by social media,” can make anyone feel that they will never be good enough. And then something happens, and she realizes that she is successful because she knows love.
In their videos, the Lopez Esqueda brothers described the financial struggles their parents faced working factory and restaurant jobs, and the sacrifices they made to raise the twins and give them a good life.
Alejandro Lopez Esqueda said his American Dream is to graduate from college and pursue a career in accounting, “as well as serving as a future role model for other first-generation students—to show them that success can be achieved through hard work and determination.”
Eduardo Lopez Esqueda, who plans to major in finance, said, “My version of success is not to be the greatest in the world, but to have a career that makes myself and my family proud. To give back to my parents for all the sacrifices they made for me.”
At the awards ceremony, Elmhurst University also announced winners of the award for best group project. Each member of the group won a $3,000 renewable scholarship that can be applied in addition to any other financial aid each student receives. The group includes:
- Jennifer Nava from Addison, Ill.
- Natalie Talia from Des Plaines, Ill.
- Devin Thomas from Lockport, Ill.
- Giovanni Thompson from Joliet, Ill.
- Feruza Tolibova from Glendale Heights, Ill.