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Scholarship recipients bring Roger Williams' ideals to life
By Chris Barnett / May 3, 2017 /   Loading Disqus...

The Rhode Island Foundation is sending six high school seniors off to college sharing $100,000 in scholarships honoring Roger Williams, the state’s founding father.

The four-year, renewable scholarships are through the Roger Williams Initiative. Conceived of and funded by philanthropists Letitia and John Carter, the annual program will begin accepting applications from next year’s senior class in October.

“Roger Williams believed in the importance of learning from those around him. Thanks to the foresight of the Carters, we are able to inspire students and their parents to think big about what’s possible for their future,” said Neil Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO.


More than 120 students applied for this inaugural round of scholarships. The six recipients were selected based on financial need, appreciation for Roger Williams’ values and record of academic achievement and community service.

"It is clear from the quality of the applications that these students see Roger Williams as a set of living ideals and not just an historical figure. We hope our support helps these six young people achieve great things,” said John Carter.

This year’s scholarship recipients are Kelsey Dellinger of North Kingstown High School, Fatou Dieng of Woonsocket High School, Taleen Donoyan of Cranston High School West, Diana Iglesias of Central High School, Ngan “Kim” Le of Mount St. Charles Academy and Night Jean Muhingabo of Central High School.

Dellinger plans to attend the University of Rhode Island.

“This scholarship means the opportunity to show the world what I am made of,” she said. “I want to prove that just because someone does not come from a highly educated family, it does not mean that they can't reach their dreams. The ability to attend college with as little debt as possible will lead me on the path towards the life I have always wanted to live.”

In her application, Dellinger had this to say about the impact Roger Williams still has today.

“This new colony of Rhode Island was a lively experiment. We humans cannot live a life with boundaries or borders. We crave freedom, this need for liberty embedded in our very DNA. Because of this, I have learned that God cannot be housed under one roof. Tolerance, whether in the form of religion, culture or tradition, is a virtue that all must learn,” she wrote.

“Find your own personal taste of joy, whether in your job, family or community, and mix it with a dose of service to others and you will create the most decadent elixir that the world has ever witnessed,” she wrote.

Dieng plans to attend Smith College.

“This scholarship allows me to continue to build the bridge to a successful future as a Neonatologist. I now realize the importance of stepping out of our boundaries in terms of our education, the same way Williams stepped out of his when he came to Rhode Island. Through this, he was able to broaden his knowledge,” she said.

In her application, Dieng had this to say about the impact Roger Williams still has today.

“My knowledge of Roger Williams has shown me that my community is a growing foundation many of his beliefs. “The one thing that makes my community unique is its diversity. Our ability to accept and surround ourselves with individuals from different ethnic backgrounds such as African, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Italian, Asian and Albanian represents what Roger Williams sought through his freedom of conscience, when he welcomed everyone into his community regardless of who they were as long as they were good citizens,” she wrote.

“My service to my community has made me a competent student who is more than willing to accept a challenge that can make a difference in someone's life the same way Roger Williams did. During my sophomore year of high school, I dedicated my summer to volunteering at Landmark Medical Center, a hospital in my city. I assisted members of the soup kitchen in giving meals to patients, and taking their orders,” she wrote. “I have also had the opportunity to participate in community service at the Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., as a Bank of America student leader, in which I have created gift bags full of items such as toothpaste, soap, toothbrushes and lotion for veterans in the hospital.”

Donoyan plans to attend the University of Rhode Island.

"The Roger Williams Scholarship has not only provided me the opportunity to become more confident about being able to comfortably accomplish my goals in higher education, but has molded me into a more confident individual having my accomplishments and achievements be validated in such a rewarding and honorable way,” she said. “I am very optimistic for what my goals in Nursing hold and the Roger Williams scholarship is another helping hand to guide me towards a successful career and college experience, and for that I am very thankful."

In her application, Donoyan had this to say about the impact Roger Williams still has today.

“Roger Williams’ drive, determination and resilience gave him the all the power and means to achieve his goals and become a pioneer and advocate for freedom and tolerance in religion, culture and simply matters of conscience and new ideas,” she wrote. “In my life, whether in school, outside of school, in my community and beyond, these traits that Roger Williams exemplified through his achievements have helped me to develop my own methods of success and have helped mold my character into the independent, ambitious and passionate Rhode Islander that I am today.”

Iglesias plans to attend Providence College.

“The Roger Williams scholarship has impacted me tremendously. It gave me a boost of confidence, knowing that I can attend a college and not have to worry about financial circumstances, and I can attain my goal of majoring in the business field,” she said.

In her application, Iglesias had this to say about the impact Roger Williams still has today.

"Today I can proudly say I am the salutatorian of the class of 2017! It is still so surreal to me, so many intelligent students at my school competing, and with my devotion I achieved it all and managed to get through all my four years of high school, like Roger Williams’ devotion led him to many of his achievements,” she wrote. “I had implemented Roger Williams’ characteristics of diligence to continue striving for my aspiration and goals, because I am proud to be an educated Latina, proving to many individuals that we can all achieve our dreams if we put our minds to it, just like Roger Williams."

Le plans to attend Columbia University.

"The Roger Williams Scholarship ensures that I can continue an education in one of the world's greatest city and university. Most important of all, the scholarship means access, opportunity and a step into the future,” she said.

In her application, Le had this to say about the impact Roger Williams still has today.

“Roger Williams represented two leadership qualities that I aspire to embody: courage and conviction. He was not afraid to speak his mind, even against the highest seats of authority. He defended his principles and dared to defy society’s most entrenched beliefs,” she wrote. “For Rhode Island and liberty, he was willing to sacrifice his former reputation and status. I hope I will be able to uphold my values as fervently as Williams did his. Most of all, I aspire to be as fearless he was—brave enough to challenge society, courageous enough to sacrifice what I have.”

Muhingabo is considering attending Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island College or Roger Williams University.

“I strongly believe that that’s what Roger Williams represented: promoting freedom, creating leaders in our communities, and loving each other. It is a value to me for life, and that is where I stand,” he said.

In his application, Muhingabo had this to say about the impact Roger Williams still has today.

“I have learned that Roger Williams was a remarkable man who, like me, lived in the spirit of his community and beliefs. He did not believe in separation, but instead he believed in freedom of religion and that individuals should be free to follow their own convictions,” he wrote. “When I came to the United States as a refugee, my community helped me. I had the opportunity to learn American culture. After a year of improving my English, embracing the community values of Roger Williams, I began to give back. I volunteered at the Refugee Dream Center as an interpreter for the refugees because they could not speak English.”

In addition to the scholarships, the Roger Williams Initiative includes a free online education hub offering activities and discussion starters on Roger Williams and his teachings for elementary, middle and high school educators to use in their classrooms. The site – findingrogerwilliams.com – also offers researchers a comprehensive collection of verifiable information about Roger Williams, his life, legacy and character.

“By providing access to resources and opportunities inspired by our state’s founder and his teachings, we are promoting a sense of place and awareness for all Rhode Islanders,” said Jessica David, the Foundation’s senior vice president for strategy and community investment, who led the project.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2016, the Foundation awarded a record $45 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.
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