Students pick up scholarships

Newport Harbor High School senior Michael Cantwell accepted a scholarship Wednesday in the same spot his older sibling had years earlier.

"My brother was here four years ago," he said. "He won the exact same award."

Michael was one of eight students Thursday that the Newport Harbor Exchange Club named as its Youth of the Year, honoring high school seniors for their service and academics with college scholarships.

Michael is headed to UCLA, where his brother is about to graduate.

"He really wanted to thank the Exchange Club," Michael said.

Exchange Club members laughed and clapped for this generation of graduates, one in a long line they've sent off to college.

"The youngsters in this room have been really blessed, and we're blessed to give them $2,500 [each]," said Exchange Club President Leo Fracalosy.

The national service club recognizes top students each year. The local Newport Harbor branch takes two students each from four local high schools: Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Estancia and Newport Harbor.

"I am so thankful to you guys for providing scholarships to our students," Harbor counselor Grace Nguyen told members.

Students apply for the scholarship through their counselors who work with teachers to pick the schools' top youth.

"It's mostly about extra-curricular activities and volunteerism," Nguyen said. "The focus is really on service."

The Exchange Club scholarships are atypical because students get a chance to meet their benefactors face-to-face, Nguyen said.

Seven of the eight honorees gave short speeches at the club's meeting Wednesday, and members encouraged them to stay in touch.

"[Club members] really do truly appreciate the kids," Nguyen said "And they make it personal."

The eight honorees were Quan Nguyen and Ashley Tfaye from Mesa, Ilene Umansky and Matt Thomas from Estancia, Michael Cantwell and Kenzie Ludes from Harbor, and Ryon Sabouni and Katie Groke from CdM.

"As a former high school teacher," Fracalosy said, "It's been really special for me to head up this award."

The students had already made their parents proud, Fracalosy said, so "make us proud also and become the best person you can be."

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