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El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 senior a finalist for Daniels Fund scholarship

Israel Oketunmbi, Sand Creek High School senior, has been named a finalist for the Daniels Scholarship Program. Students granted the scholarship receive up to $100,000 to help pay for their education at any two-year or four-year nonprofit, accredited college or university in the United States. The fund was started by Bill Daniels (1927-2000), a wartime veteran and cable television mogul.The Daniels Fund website states: ìWeíre looking for students with great potential, strong character and big dreams. Daniels Scholars are Americaís next generation of leaders, persevering through lifeís challenges and rooted in the values important to Bill Daniels. They are free and entrepreneurial thinkers who are proud of this country and their community and work hard to improve it.îApplicants must meet the following criteria for consideration: ï Strength of character ï Leadership potential ï Commitment to serving their communities ï Academic performance or promise ï Well-rounded personality ï Emotional maturity and stabilityThere are other criteria such as being a resident of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah or Wyoming; a grade point average of 3.0 or higher in high school; specified SAT or ACT score(s); and financial need.Oketunmbi meets the criteria and then some.The Oketunmbi family emigrated from Nigeria about 11 years ago and lived with cousins in Pueblo for a brief time. Fifth grade was Israelís first school year in D 49 at Evans Elementary.Being a non-English speaking elementary and middle schooler from Nigeria wasnít easy for Oketunmbi. ìIn elementary school and middle school, I was going through a tough time in my life,î Oketunmbi said. ìI really couldnít speak English, which led to fistfights and troubles. I found it hard to find direction and feel involved. I was an outsider and other students looked down on me.îThere was no one incident that prompted a change in Oketunmbi. ìI feel like the transition was realizing mentally that if I keep going on this route, I wonít end up in the best situation,î he said. Around sixth grade, his older brother returned from military service and the brothers started connecting. ìHe helped me realize that what you do demonstrates your life. What I mean is if you want a good future, you have to have a good present,î said Oketunmbi. His brother would tell him, ìAn excuse doesnít explain.î For young Oketunmbi, he started to see that for everything you do, you have to have a reason.Oketunmbi credits Horizon Middle School administrators Elizabeth Dalzell-Wagers and Leslie Garza for helping him change his behavior. ìThey helped me realize consequences, listened and helped me grow as a person,î he said. Wrestling Coach Brian Lacosse was another influencer. ìHe took me in honestly close to like a son and when I joined wrestling, he would talk to me about not just wrestling, which made me feel welcomed. That was one of those times in middle school when I felt like I needed that.îOketunmbi not only carries a 4.0 grade point average in high school while taking advanced placement and college courses, he also participates in multiple extracurricular activities. He is a soccer player, cheerleader, wrestler and track athlete. He said he loves them all, but soccer takes a slight edge as a favorite, mainly because he has played it longer and it was the only sport he was exposed to in Nigeria.Sports are not his only extracurricular activities. He is a member of DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), Future Business Leaders of America, student council, yearbook, National Honor Society, Student Board of Representatives, the National Honor Society and Link Crew, which is a club of juniors and seniors who help freshmen integrate into high school.Community service is a high priority for Oketunmbi. ìCommunity service is something I will always carry in my heart,î he said. ìI came to a country of opportunity and this country has given so much to me. Community service is the smallest I can do.îLauren Stuart, Sand Creek Zone community liaison and former student council advisor, said Oketunmbi exhibits leadership in all areas of his educational experience. ìHe leads by example. He has a real passion and cares about SCHS,î Stuart said. He takes every opportunity to volunteer in mentoring younger students. ìHe has visited middle schools over the last few years to tell them about what to expect in high school, how to act and what to take advantage of,î she said. ìHeís just one of those kids that if youíre younger, you want to know his name. Heís magnetic and makes you feel important.îThe school is implementing a mentoring program at Evans Elementary, and Oketunmbi will be one of five high schoolers in the program. Stuart said the high school students will be a positive presence and influence in these childrenís lives. ìKids donít always get that at home. We want these kids to see that they matter to someone else,î she said.Oketunmbi mentors because he loves it. ìI love doing it because I remember the troubles I had back in elementary and middle school. Being able to mentor other students and guide them through those troubles is something I want to do because of my experiences,î he said.Stuart said, ìIsrael is a great person to select to be one of those kids that shows itís cool to be smart and cool to be well-behaved.îSeveral universities have accepted Oketunmbi, many of which are in Colorado. He has not made a final choice. Scholarship opportunities will be influential in his decision. He would like to stay in Colorado and study computer science. After college, he would like to work for a large software company where he can contribute to the technological advancement of America.The next step in the Daniels Fund scholarship application process is a personal interview in early March. Scholarship recipients will be announced around the end of the month.Oketunmbi speaks with gratitude for the opportunities he has had and the role of his family. ìWe came from a low development country and my parents sacrificed everything to bring us to America,î he said. ìBy the grace of God, we are able to be here and have an opportunity to succeed. I respect everything about the United States, and coming here from zero opportunity to having so many opportunities has been amazing. I take everything now so serious. I make sure I do the best at everything I put my mind to. The best way I can repay my parents for their sacrifices is being my best self and being at the top of my game.îOketunmbi shared a quote that has helped him throughout high school: ìLed by faith, motivated by the fear of being average.î

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