Last summer, Calena Slesser’s sister was struck and nearly killed by a car while crossing the street. As her parents shifted their focus to hospital visits, medical consultations and rehabilitative care, Calena fell into the role of caregiver to her younger siblings.
It was a lot to shoulder for any high school senior, much less for someone who was putting in extra hours to get back on track academically. But no matter what personal and family hardships Calena has faced, she’s done so with grace and strength, never losing sight of her goal of graduating in the hopes of pursuing a college degree.
“She has fire in her belly and she has hope,” says Canyons School District’s Student Advocacy and Access Director Karen Sterling. “My hope for her would be that she continues on this high of realizing she can do hard things, and that she can make a future for herself and find within herself the strength to rise above any challenge.”
For her persistence in the face of adversity, Calena was chosen to receive the Canyons Education Foundation’s premier $2,500 Rising Star Scholarship at the Foundation’s seventh annual Spring Gala on Thursday, April 19. This year, the Foundation awarded a record $11,000 in college scholarships to nine deserving students.
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At the event, which was held to generate funding for future scholarships, the Foundation also launched a new campaign to raise money to subsidize the cost of tuition for Canyons District teachers who are furthering their own education by enrolling in master’s and doctoral degree programs. “The Foundation works with community leaders and businesses to secure resources to fuel innovation in the classroom and help students realize their dreams. An important piece of the equation is supporting teachers in their efforts to grow professionally and improve their teaching practice,” says Foundation Officer Laura Barlow. “Many factors contribute to student success, but nothing matters more than having a passionate and highly-skilled teacher in the classroom.”
Not too long ago, Calena whose family had been uprooted by financial and housing insecurities was struggling to wake at 5 a.m. to catch a bus every day to school. Today, the 18-year-old plans to enroll at Salt Lake Community College, boasts a 4.0 grade point average for the term, and is working with her peers to start a student council at Diamond Ridge, Canyons District’s alternative high school.
Thankful for the close mentoring she received at Diamond Ridge, she says she wanted to give something back: “Everyone there is super supportive. They all want you to graduate and to succeed.”
Smart and tenacious, she’s “very generous with her time and talents and helps other students who are struggling,” says her math and financial literacy teacher Wendy Quigley. “She is one of those kids who could go really, really far given the opportunity.”
Congratulations to Calena and the following Bright Star Scholarship winners:
- Alta High: Olivia Steadman
- Brighton High: McKayla Dumas
- Corner Canyon High: Sam Aamodt
- Hillcrest High: Marthe Mfourou
- Jordan High: Vanesa Beers
- Jordan High: Makayla Wright
- Mountain America Scholar: Emily Arthur
Canyons Foundation Gala Photos
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