By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – It wasn’t your typical Easter gift; however, it couldn’t have been more welcomed.
Matthew Stridiron remembers the day clearly. It was the one before Easter. The soon-to-be at the time 2019 Newburgh Free Academy graduate had just received an e-mail notification that he was being selected for an extremely competitive and elite honor, both in New York State and Nationally: The Gates Scholarship.
“I remember reading the e-mail with my father right next to me and not wanting to let him know until the next day,” recalled the NFA scholar graduate Stridiron, who already has a two year college degree in Cybertechnology that he earned while still in high school. “I wanted to wait until the next day-Easter, and stay as calm as much as possible; I thought it would make the perfect Easter gift.”
It was indeed an ideal present, one that made Stidiron’s father, Darren, as well as his entire family, extremely proud. After all, the requirements alone to apply were impressive. Having to possess a grade point average in the top 10 percent of your class, play a leadership role in your community as well as overcome some tough challenges, the application process was limited to a select field of candidates. With his high class ranking, Stridiron had the first piece secured; the second two were actually connected to one another.
“My biggest challenge was that I went through a lot of bullying-harassment over the years, but turned my life around by becoming involved in my community with around ten different after-school programs at both the high school and college levels,” explained Stridiron, who found out about the esteemed scholarship through the Matriculate Program that teams high school juniors up with college students.
“I immediately became interested in applying for it because of the benefits it offers,” explained Stridiron, who will have his full tuition to Columbia University paid for through the Gates Scholarship.
Stridiron was recently exposed to some of those perks on June 27- June 29 when he attended the Gates Scholarship Summer Institute Conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Here, he learned about the very independent nature of the college experience and how to be proactive, dealing with the power of opportunity by developing a strong support system, crafting resumes and the potency of networking. In fact, at the Conference, Stridiron attained pivotal advice from CEOs and Presidents of large corporations as well as met some other critical people from businesses such as AT&T and EyeMart Express.
In addition to the highly reputable Gates Scholarship, Stridiron also won another honor, one close to his heart- The Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Of Latin descent, Stridiron has a mother from El Salvador, who fled from that war-plagued country to the United States.
“This Hispanic Scholarship is special because it shows the struggles my mother has been through,” said Stridiron. “Her story really means a lot to me; I wouldn’t be who I am without her.”
A large piece of exactly who Stridiron is can be captured in what he accrued from his three day stay at the Gates Scholarship Summer Institute Conference last month. They are pearls of wisdom he is likely to continue to apply to his life as well as others’ for many years to come.
“The main lesson I took away was the higher you go up, the more opportunities you will get; it’s all about the people you meet,” stressed Stridiron, who wants to continue to give back as much as possible to his Newburgh community, “Don’t let anyone stop you from what you’re doing; the moment you stop, you lose your momentum to go forward.”
It’s quite evident that forward is the only place Stridiron wants to go.