The 2016 Samsung American Legion Scholarship recipients were recognized in Washington, D.C., for their achievements. Photo by Clay Lomneth/The American Legion

Samsung American Legion scholars have challenges ahead

As the 2016 American Legion Samsung Scholarship recipients gathered at the Dirksen Senate Office Building June 7 for a breakfast reception that culminated their recognition trip in Washington, D.C., they were brought back to their time spent the day before with veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Scholarship alum Matthew Barreau met a 95-year-old military pilot at the home who spoke profound words to him that he imparted upon the scholars – “What you do (in life) will become obsolete. Who you are will remain forever.”

With that, Barreau challenged the scholars to write their story, “not the story of what you do, but the story of who you will become. If you do that, you will be special and we will be proud of you,” said Barreau, a 1999 Samsung scholarship recipient and Oregon Boys State alum who resides in Virginia. “Your list of accomplishments are no doubt impressive, but you’re not here because you are special. You are here because you have been identified as having an opportunity to become special.

"Your list of accomplishments are now in your past … your past is only relevant if you use it to create a future. Ultimately, what will matter is not what you do but who you want to become. What will your story be?”

Samsung representatives personally handed each of the 10 scholars with new Samsung Tab S3 tablets to help them with their journey to creating their story, one that will be made through their connections with each other, scholarship alumni, and Samsung and American Legion staff.

“It’s the network that you are building now that will serve you in the future,” said John Hendrick, chief of staff for Samsung in Ridgefield Park, N.J.

This is the fourth annual Samsung American Legion Scholarship recognition in D.C., which started as a way to “honor your hard work and the hope that we have for you moving forward,” said Ann Woo, director of corporate social responsibility for Samsung in Ridgefield Park. “The connection between Samsung and the veteran community and The American Legion is very strongly grounded, and one of the ways that we are so proud to fill that connection out is to support you … the future of the country but also the descendants of veterans.”

As the scholars received the tablets, they had an opportunity to express their appreciation to Samsung and The American Legion for the scholarship and recognition trip.

“This wonderful opportunity has enabled me to spend time with the other scholars and alumni, (and) also the scholarship which will help me pursue a degree at the Colorado School of Mines,” said Sydney Marchando of Highlands Ranch, Colo. “And thank you to my grandfather and to everyone else who served in the Korean War, and who served in general.”

James Libbey of St. Michael, Minn., shared the same sentiment, giving thanks to Samsung and the Legion for “pretty much everything … the money, the trip (to D.C.), the connections and friendships that I’ve made here. I just have a deep debt of gratitude for this scholarship with the experiences that I’ve had because of it and the opportunities I will have and take advantage of in the future,” said Libbey, who will attend Notre Dame.

Several of the scholars met with their respective state senators, including Nicholas Cordero of Cave Springs, Ark., who had his picture taken with Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., keynote speaker of the reception and a 1994 Arkansas Boys State alum.

Cotton addressed the scholars about their connection to Boys State or Auxiliary Girls State and a mutual feeling that they all may have as they prepare for higher education.

“I know when you get to a place like (Boys State or Girls State) you sometimes wonder if you’re going to fit in, if you have what it takes, if you made the right decision. You may experience something like that in a couple months as well when you go off to college,” said Cotton, a member of American Legion Post 20 in Dardanelle, Ark. “Just like Boys State and Girls State, and any other time you felt like that, you do and you will. The people who chose you to be a recipient of this award didn’t do so for no reason. They did so because they know that you have what it takes to succeed.”

Cotton was on the same flight as Cordero when he was en route to D.C., for the scholarship recognition trip, so to speak with Cotton in person, and have his picture taken with him, was “exciting” for Cordero, he said. “I’m just so thankful to Samsung and The American Legion for this trip and helping me make an education at the University of Chicago attainable for my family," Cordero said. "This award will be invaluable in helping me reach my aspirations.”

Several American Legion family leaders attended the reception to show their support to the scholars, including National Vice Commander Paul Espinoza of New Mexico, Americanism Chairman Richard Anderson of Connecticut, Sons of The American Legion Past National Vice Commander Greg Gibbs of New York, Auxiliary National Education Committee Chairman Norma Tramm of Minnesota and American Legion Education Committee Chairman Mike Bredeck of Minnesota.

Bredeck closed the reception with another challenge to the 10 Samsung American Legion Scholarship recipients – to pay it forward.

“Samsung and The American Legion have paid it forward to you. Now, in turn, to those that much is given, much will be expected,” he said. “We must remember that freedom isn’t free. In fact, it’s only possible because of those that have saved us in the past and continue to save us today.

“Let us remember and let us pay it forward.”