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The City Journals

Inspirational teen receives $25,000 scholarship

Feb 07, 2019 02:06PM ● By Jet Burnham

The $25,000 scholarship Thanh Le received from Sallie Mae bring his dreams of college within a closer reach. (Photo courtesy of Sallie Mae)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Thanh Le, a senior at Taylorsville High School, was grateful to be rescued from a difficult statistics problem when representatives from Sallie Mae interrupted his class to award him a $25,000 scholarship Bridging the Dream Scholarship.

“Thanh is one of those people that is always happy and always trying to help other people,” said Claire Dukatz, the school counselor who nominated him for the scholarship. “He’s definitely been an example to others here.”

Le earns good grades while juggling AP classes and an after-school job. He is a member of the cross country and track teams and is involved in extracurricular activities. He admits he went a little crazy applying for several leadership positions this year. Le currently serves as senior class senator, president of the HOSA club, treasurer of the Key Club, a member of the Student Advisory Council for the Utah State Board of Education as well as the Utah Youth Council. He loves the service opportunities these positions provide.

Le has also been promoted within his martial arts academy and teaches classes to other students.

“Those are just some of the most valuable moments as a teacher that I’ve been able to apply to all of my leadership positions,” Le said.

Leadership opportunities continue to boost Le’s confidence, which hasn’t always been there. Le said he used to be shy and overly concerned with doing everything perfectly. He said giving up on perfectionism became necessary for him to be able to balance his academics with his extracurricular activities. Besides, he said it wasn’t helping him.

“If you’re always a perfectionist, I don’t think you’ll learn from your mistakes,” said Le.

Le reached this and other realizations through a lot of time self-reflecting after his mom passed away just after he finished junior high school. He realized he had been immature, had taken his parents for granted and hadn’t appreciated them enough. He said his development into a young adult was escalated by losing his mother at that age.

“I thought a lot about my actions and my future and what I could do,” he said. Le took charge of his own life, as his father started to be away more often, traveling back home to Vietnam to build a new life. Living on his own much of the time, Le has learned to shoulder adult responsibilities.

Role models from his martial arts academy of nine years have inspired him with the skills needed to get through his many challenges. He hopes to be able to do the same for others who have even harder lives.

“If there are students out there who are struggling more than me, I would like to be able to give them some help figuring out their lives, figuring out their situation and getting them up from where they are,” he said. “I didn’t have that help, and I would like to give that help.”

Dukatz said Le is an example to other students with how he has dealt with his hardships.

“He’s actually used them to improve himself as a person and find ways that he can help other people,” she said. “Losing [his mom] really propelled him to want to help others the way that he had seen her help others.”

Le’s advice to other teens dealing with difficult situations is: 

“You’ll learn from it; you’ll definitely grow from it. It will be OK.”

Le plans to use his scholarship at the University of Utah to pursue a degree in the medical field, where he can continue to help others.

Le was chosen as one of seven $25,000 scholarship recipients from a nationwide pool of nominations. The scholarship is awarded each year to high school juniors and seniors who excel in academics, athletics, community service or school activities, while facing financial circumstances that may prevent them from being able to fulfill their college dreams.

Another THS student, Jobany Quiterio, was one of last year’s winners.