Thursday night, about 100 Kessler Scholars gathered to listen to Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II in the Michigan League Ballroom for their annual banquet. The banquet serves as a final celebration of the scholars’ hard work throughout the year. In his address, Gilchrist discussed his path from engineer to politician and the resilience he learned along the way.
The Kessler Presidential Scholarship Program was created by Fred Wilpon and Judy Kessler Wilpon in 2007 for first generation students. Starting in 2017, the program is undergoing an expansion, which includes the addition of a first-year seminar, professional workshops and an enrichment fund to provide aid with tutoring or other minor costs.
LSA freshman Lance Schwiderson said the program eased his transition from high school to college. Schwiderson said he did not feel much support from the University of Michigan in navigating academics, and that he would have been lost without the program’s guidance.
“Sometimes I feel like the University at large’s issue is people tell you to do things, but they don’t tell you how to do it,” Schwiderson said. “In regards to all first-generation students, I don’t really feel a connection to that community; I feel more of a connection to the Kessler community.”
LSA sophomore Kendra Beaudoin echoed this sentiment, noting that in the wider University community first-generation students are scattered.
“I do a lot of work with first-gens on campus and there’s a huge disconnect between what the University expects from first-gen students and what they think of it and then what first-gen students actually feel,” Beaudoin said. “I know plenty of first-gen students that are on campus and don’t know anybody else but me that’s first-gen.”
During Gilchrist’s address, he mentioned how a scholarship is an investment for the future.
“Yes, a scholarship is a check that somebody writes,” Gilchrist said. “But a scholarship really is to prepare you and position you for a new set of processes.”
Gilchrist discussed his background, noting his experience attending the College of Engineering at the University, working for Microsoft and, after creating the first wave of social media networking for the Obama campaign, finding his way into politics.
Gilchrist also encouraged the scholars to remain persistent in the face of failure. He discussed how after his loss in the 2017 election for Detroit city clerk, he initially felt defeated. But he continued forward, eventually becoming lieutenant governor.
“My story is one of those that everything in life — the wins you get, the L’s you take — they all prepare you for the next thing in your path,” Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist finished his address by reassuring scholars that he sees a potential in all of them to improve both the state of Michigan and the country as a whole.
In an interview with The Daily after the event, LSA senior Mia Choe echoed Gilchrist’s message of scholarship opportunities preparing students for the future. She is a research assistant at Detroit Medical Center and plans to attend medical school.
“From freshman year to senior year, I’ve really seen the program evolve, like the mentorship programs and just the different events — it was just nice knowing that I had a community of people who came from a similar situation that I did,” Choe said.
Gilchrist told The Daily after the event that he personally relates to many of these scholars.
“I wouldn’t be able to afford the University of Michigan without a scholarship, and many of these Kessler Scholars wouldn’t be able to afford to go to a school like Michigan without a scholarship,” Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist reiterated Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plans to ensure higher education is a serious option for more graduating high school seniors, also known as the MI Opportunity Scholarship Program. Gilchrist also mentioned possible plans to get more funding for the education system.
“We’re also proposing … to help improve and put additional money into the foundation lounge for helping to fund school districts, more money for school districts, more money for special education and at-risk youth programs,” Gilchrist said. “All these investments in the K-12 program will better prepare students across the state of Michigan to have a better educational experience, and hopefully they’ll all want to come to Michigan.”