Freedom Scholarship Dinner honors MLK, recognizes 14 outstanding Central students

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Douglas Wilder, first elected African American governor of the United States, addresses Freedom Scholarship recipients and other guests at the 2013 Freedom Scholarship Dinner on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Tebbenkamp, UCM Media Relations)
Douglas Wilder, first elected African American governor of the United States, addresses Freedom Scholarship recipients and other guests at the 2013 Freedom Scholarship Dinner on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Tebbenkamp, UCM Media Relations)

Story by NICOLE COOKE, Copy Editor—
The Warrensburg and UCM communities came together Tuesday to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a night of music, dining and honoring UCM students.
About 250 people attended the annual Freedom Scholarship Dinner. The night began with dinner in the Union Ballroom, served on tables covered with glowing candles, but the highlight of the evening came later.
Former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder joined UCM as the keynote speaker. Wilder was chosen because he was elected the first African-American governor in U.S. history Jan. 13, 1990.
Wilder, who has previously visited UCM, spoke about the challenges that faced King, as well as the challenges facing the nation.
He began his speech with a quote most are familiar with: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Wilder used this quote and those “unalienable rights” as the focus of his speech.
“This event is important because it shows that progress had been made, but it’s taken a great deal of time for it to come,” he said. “It means people wont forget. It’s not just the pageantry of an event like this. It’s not just a day off school or work.
“It gives you the chance to learn more about America, what it stood for, what it stands for; what it has done, what it needs to do. We still need to do some of the things King said we need to overcome.”
Wilder commented many times on the progress that America has made since Jefferson’s Presidency.
“Jefferson and those of his time would be shocked that a person of colored descent, with a college education, was standing before you today as the speaker for this event honoring another colored man that has his own national holiday,” Wilder said.
He added that Jefferson may have never thought of where the nation would be today, but “his words did.” President Barack Obama’s second inauguration on Monday proves progress has been made.
Many students spoke with Wilder after his speech, commenting on things they see as obstacles which he said was “impressive.”
Wilder challenged everyone in the audience to have conversations about challenging issues with their peers. He said just attending events like the MLK celebration is not enough.
The evening ended with Wilder and President Chuck Ambrose presenting Freedom Scholarships to 14 UCM students. Among those students was junior Andre Tinoco Jr.
He decided to apply for the scholarship after encouragement from his mentor at UCM. Part of the application process includes students writing an essay about how they will “Keep the Dream Alive,” which was also the theme for Tuesday’s event.
“I took a lot of time writing that essay,” Tinoco said. “I used a quote from Dr. King because I think he is not only one of the most quotable people, but he meant what he said. I used that as a basis of what I wrote.”
Tinoco said he would keep the dream alive by giving back to the community he comes from. As a freshman, he was a keynote speaker at the Ceasar E. Chavez awards ceremony. He also helped lobby to keep that scholarship going.
He said that he could describe receiving the Freedom Scholarship in one word: humbling.
“It doesn’t produce a sense of entitlement or arrogance,” he said. “You put in a lot of hard work and you’re receiving recognition. It’s humbling.”
Although Tinoco said he is grateful for the award, he is most looking forward to the mentor program. As a recipient of the scholarship, he must now serve as a mentor in the UCM mentorship program, administered by the Office of Student Experience and Engagement. He gets to mentor a fellow student, just like he was mentored his freshman year.
“Being a mentor means helping a younger student with study skills tips, getting involved, etc.” he said. “It’ll be one of the biggest ways I can give back.”
While Andre was one of 14 recipients, he wasn’t the only Tinoco to walk across the stage. His younger sister, Andrea, also received the Freedom scholarship, making the night a family affair.
“It means something special to us and to our parents as well,” Andrea said. “I know they are very proud to say two of their children have won this award. I hope in future years we can keep that tradition going with the rest of our family.”
Andrea, a freshman at UCM, chose a different topic for her “Keeping the Dream Alive” essay. She focused on her ethnicity.
“I said I would keep the dream alive by showing people of my Hispanic culture that you can do absolutely anything if you set your mind to it,” Andrea said.
Andrea added, “I want to come back to where I grew up and say, ‘look what I’ve done. Look what I can do, and you can do it too.’”
Wilder said he enjoyed being a part of awarding the scholarships.
“It’s fantastic because it shows education is the key that will unlock most doors,” he said. “The students are motivated to want to do something with it. It’s a ‘we’ thing, not a ‘me’ thing.
“They are a necessary ingredient, and they can be a catalyst to encourage others, not just their generation, but older people, younger people. Wherever they can, they should go and be King equality foot soldiers for justice.”
The Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Scholarship began at UCM in 1994 and was initiated by the Association of African American Faculty and Staff at UCM.
Graduating high school seniors and current UCM students are eligible to apply. Applicants must have a minimum overall cumulative GPA of 2.75, exhibit promise and merit in leadership, exhibit financial need, and exhibit active involvement in community projects.
To apply for the Freedom Scholarship or any UCM scholarship, visit www.ucmo.edu/foundation/scholarships.