By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Horatio Alger, the 19th century author of more than 100 “rags to riches” novels written for working class males, lived long before Cristo Rey Kansas City High School or senior Edna McCrary were even thought of, but his belief that hard work, consistency, honesty and determination can conquer all obstacles to success continues to inspire. Edna, 17, recently received a Horatio Alger Scholarship, one of just two recipients in the Kansas City metro area.
The scholarship program was established to recognize promising college-bound high school seniors who demonstrate courage in overcoming personal obstacles and attain academic success. Edna joins 105 other students across the country named Horatio Alger Scholars in 2013. The award comes with a $20,000 scholarship and supports for higher education including mentoring, financial aid, counseling, and opportunities to participate in seminars and conferences designed to ensure completion of a four-year degree.
She ticked off the college acceptances she had received. “Let’s see, Mizzou, Avila University, Penn Valley, K.U., the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in Minnesota, Park University, the University of Central Missouri, the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, the College of St. Mary in Omaha and Rockhurst University.”
Edna was born in Las Vegas, the youngest of four children. Most of her relatives lived in Kansas City, and her mother moved her children back to be closer to family when Edna was a third grader. After attending now-closed Graceland Elementary School, she went to the Derrick Thomas Academy for middle school and it was there that she first heard about Cristo Rey High School, just a few blocks away.
“I heard about Cristo Rey and liked what I heard,” she recalled. “I told mom about Cristo Rey, and I made the decision to come here. I told a friend and she’s at Cristo Rey, too. It’s a small community and everybody’s really nice. They’ve helped me a lot.”
The petite, dark-eyed girl enrolled at Cristo Rey at the age of 13. Her birthday is Sept. 14, so for a few weeks she could not work outside the school in the School that Works program to help pay her tuition and gain valuable experience and contacts. Cristo Rey has an agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor regarding younger students. Edna worked in the school’s front office, answering the phone, “Cristo Rey High School, student worker speaking,” and filing papers. After her 14th birthday, she briefly served as a student aide at Visitation School before transferring to the administrative offices of the University of Kansas Medical Center.
That was four years ago. “I’ve worked at KU Med ever since. I was in Human Resources freshman year and Marketing sophomore year.” A girlish giggle threatened but Edna quickly grew serious again. “My junior year I worked in Organ Transplants. No, I didn’t get to watch any operations, but working on the billing and mail, spreadsheets, check requests and answering phone calls for a year, I knew that I wanted to go to Nursing School. I’m back in Marketing and Communications again. I help the supervisor, stock the refrigerator with bottles of water and help set out snacks. I also help with big projects, like filling tote bags with Breast Cancer Awareness information. I’ve put together physician profile packets for when they are speaking somewhere. I’ve handled invoices, and assembled organ transplant information packets, and put in booklets about Life after Transplants. I still want to be a nurse, and a poet.” Maya Angelou’s courage, as reflected in her poetry, is a “true source of inspiration” to Edna.
Edna has no thoughts, at this point, of specialization. She is interested in the variety of being an RN.
“I went three times to the University of Missouri School Of Medicine Health Professions Summit and to their Mini Med School program. At Mini Med School we reviewed case studies and scenarios. Then during the summit, I shadowed a doctor, watched a heart catheterization procedure, learned how to put a patient on an IV, using a dummy of course! And I watched a baby being delivered. I got a good feel for the health care profession.”
She admits to shyness, then surprises her listener. She has persevered in overcoming shyness and in succeeding academically, and her high school resume chronicles her achievements. Edna is a member of the National Honor Society, has achieved first honors at Cristo Rey, is a student ambassador who meets and greets visitors, talks to eighth graders about Cristo Rey and takes potential students, parents and others on tours of the school.
She has served as volleyball and basketball team manager and has participated in numerous community service projects. One project she is very proud of is the Natalie M. Fashion Show, which raises money for school and club projects and programs. High school juniors and seniors sell tickets to the fashion show and model cutting edge fashions from top designers. They get community service hours and have the opportunity to win a free prom dress.
Edna sold twenty $5 tickets to the fashion show, as did 12 other seniors, raising a total of $1,300 for Cristo Rey. The fashion show was Jan. 16 at the Overland Park Convention Center.
Edna is also a Senior Christian Leader, attending weekly meetings and prayer groups, as well as assisting with school prayer services.
“When I started here at Cristo Rey, I was shy and a little scared to get involved,” she said. “It took me a while. At the start of junior year I talked to my advisor because I wanted to play volleyball. She suggested I start as team manager. So that’s what I did. Then I managed the girl’s basketball team, and volleyball again last fall.”
As a NHS member, she serves as a peer counselor and works with students who hope to achieve the NHS accolade. This semester, Edna is a part of Peer Talk, talking to her peers about common issues, including anger and stress management.
Early in her senior year, during a discussion of financial aid and scholarships, her college counselor, Steph Hart, mentioned the Horatio Alger scholarship. Edna was interested and, with Hart’s encouragement, attended a workshop at Cristo Rey about the scholarship program.
“I’m a procrastinator,” Edna said with a grin. “You might say I work best under pressure. It took me a while, but I finally got the application and all the essays submitted. Then I waited about 3 months before I heard anything. Then I heard I won it!”
She is excited about winning the scholarship and attending the Horatio Alger National Scholar Conference in Washington, D.C., in April. “It’s a 5-day all expenses paid trip!” It’ll be a combination of sights and seminars, she said, and a great time.
But first she has to complete the ENGAGE test, a test developed by ACT, the national college admittance testing program, as a powerful and cost-effective way for colleges to improve their first-year retention rates and directly reach students whose personal challenges go unreported in standardized academic tests. She also participated in KYROS, a senior retreat. Edna was to lead her own small group discussions, and assist with prayer services, much as she does as a Senior Christian Leader.
Edna wanted to encourage other students with financial need and a willingness to persevere to apply for the Horatio Alger Scholarship. “You have a big chance of getting it, even if you don’t think so, because you have potential,” she said. “It’s all right if you don’t know yet what you want to do, you may even change your mind. It’s all right to be scared — I was. Cristo Rey will help. You will finish everything. Stay in touch with the college counselors, they will answer your questions and keep you focused.”
A big smile, a warm handshake and Edna said, “Thanks for listening to me.”