Sean Vennett was home playing video games during spring break when he got the call.
He was among 10 students throughout the country, and one of two in Tampa, chosen to receive the $250,000 Leonore Annenberg Scholarship, which will fully cover tuition and other expenses at a university of his choice.
Vennett, president of the Town ’N Country Youth Council and a junior at the Jefferson High School Center for International Studies, said he can’t put into words how it felt to win.
“You’re amazed and proud of yourself,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
“He is a fine young man from a fine family,” said Rob Gamester, co-founder, along with his wife, Fran, of the Town ’N Country Youth Council. “Being president is no easy task. We have 50 teens at our monthly meetings from 15 high schools and seven middle schools. Sean handles it with aplomb,” Gamester said.
Before fellow members elected him president in March, Vennett was treasurer of the group. His sister Jennifer was one of the original seven teens who helped launch the council in July 2002. His mother, Sherry, is a member of the organization’s adult board.
The scholarship covers full tuition to a United States-based college or university, as well as room and board, a book allowance and a stipend for living expenses.
Four of the scholarship recipients were from Florida this year, and two are students in Hillsborough County high schools.
Isabelle Morris, a student at H.B. Plant High School, also received the scholarship. She said the recipients found out in March but had to keep the news quiet until the official announcement in early April.
“It still seems unreal,” Morris said. “It’s just now starting to sink in that it’s real and it actually happened.”
The award is given to high school juniors who “overcome challenging circumstances and demonstrate exceptional character and academic achievement,” according to the scholarship website.
Vennett and Morris were nominated for the scholarship by the Council for Educational Change. After they were nominated, they went through a vigorous screening process, said Gail Levin, director of the Leonore Annenberg Scholarship, Fellowship and School Funds.
A member of the selection committee, Levin interviewed Vennett and Morris on the telephone and met them last month when all of the recipients gathered for an awards banquet in New York City.
“They’re both wonderful people,” she said.
Vennett has a 5.1 grade-point average and is vice president of Jefferson’s student government. He is a member of the Boy Scouts Order of the Arrow and the Town and Country Youth Council, and is vice president of his school’s Beta Club. He is deciding where he wants to apply to attend college. Right now his top choice is Harvard University, where he would pursue a degree in the medical field.
Morris has a 5.2 grade-point average and is a member of the Spanish Honor Society and the National Honor Society. She is a member of Plant High’s rowing team and is a concert master in the orchestra. She volunteers as a tutor at local elementary schools and a remedial reading camp. She wants to study cognitive psychology at Emory University or Rice University.
The school district honored the students at an ceremony April 30.
“This is an amazing thing for these two students,” Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said at the April 23 school board meeting.
The Leonore Annenberg Scholarship, Fellowship and School Funds are administered by Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The John W. Lockhart Elementary Magnet School in Tampa also received $50,000 from the fund this year to buy books and e-readers.