Lauren Kim and Jonathan Lee Earn 2019 Coca-Cola Scholars Scholarship
By Yanpeng Wang
Every year, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards graduating high school seniors who plan on attending college with a $20,000 scholarship based on their academic achievements, leadership, and service demonstrated in school and/or community. The Coca-Cola Scholars scholarship received 95,715 applications just this year alone. After a 3-stage selection process, 150 finalists from this competitive pool of applicants were named 2019 Coca-Cola Scholars, two of whom are members of our own Northside community: Lauren Kim, Adv. 905, and Jonathan Lee, Adv. 911.
The results were sent to all the finalists on Feb. 26. Both Kim and Lee were in class when they opened their emails and discovered the exciting news. “At first, the weight of the news didn't really sink in, so I kind of just sat there in surprise, but later that day, I was celebrating with my family and we all felt so honored to have been recognized for such a meaningful award,” said Kim. Lee responded similarly: “I was just super surprised and internally excited. My family was really happy about it and very thankful.”
Neither Kim nor Lee were expecting to receive this kind of positive news because of how selective the scholarship is. They explained how they were initially apprehensive about applying but ultimately decided to apply because of how straightforward and easy the first stage of the application was. Reflecting back on the application process, Kim and Lee expressed that they appreciated the unique essay prompts and interview questions given during the later stages because it allowed for creative responses. For Lee, the essay prompts allowed him to show many different sides of himself.
When asked about which parts of their applications that may have differentiated them from other applicants, both Kim and Lee responded with uncertainty. They learned from experience that every institution, whether it be colleges or scholarship programs, look for different things from applicants. Kim hypothesized that the distinguishing factor of her application may be the enthusiasm she has demonstrated for her extracurriculars. She added that her passions were made tangible through some of the success she has achieved within those respective fields. She clarified that her success is not defined by awards or national recognition, but rather her ability to “formulate genuine statements of deeper impact within many activities that [she] attempted.” Lee also emphasized the importance of pursuing activities of genuine enjoyment. He said that “while it was not unique to have aspects of service and leadership, since I'm sure every applicant had that, I went really deep and got super involved in the activities that I was a part of and hopefully the fruits of my involvement and the impact I was able to make showed in my application. I've spent a lot of high school finding things that I genuinely love to do and making sure that it helps people in some way, and when you are really interested and committed to something it comes out naturally.”
Winning the prestigious scholarship is further proof of the commitment both Kim and Lee put into school and their extracurriculars. Kim and Lee, along with the other 2019 Coke Scholars were presented with an award worth $20,000 during the Coke Scholars Weekend in Atlanta, Georgia at the beginning of April. The monetary award lasts up to 10 years, which Kim and Lee hope will make graduate school more affordable for them and their families. The benefits of receiving the scholarship stretch beyond the $20,000; Coke Scholars also gain access to a network of alums that could potentially help them secure job and internship opportunities in the future.
Kim expressed that she is “very lucky to have been awarded many options and opportunities for undergraduate education as well as my later future.” She plans to study chemical engineering, or study neuroscience and economics, then attend medical school. “The ultimate goal is to work in a field of science and tech innovation, to hopefully make a difference doing what I love,” said Kim.
As for Lee, he hopes to pursue social entrepreneurship or fiscal policy while changing the “ethos of self-interest that is so prevalent within the financial sector and challenging other businesses to be very intentional about using their resources to revitalize communities.” Lee explained that the evolution of his goals was shaped by his experience living in Chicago and working with a financial literacy nonprofit dedicated to impacting low-income youth which has exposed him to economic disparities that exist, especially in minority communities.
When asked if they had any tips for students who plan on applying for the Coca-Cola Scholarship, both Kim and Lee advise applicants to display different aspects of themselves in their applications. According to Kim, this can be done by “tackling different topics for each essay and including a variety of extracurriculars and awards.” Lee communicated his advice with a metaphor: “If you make it to the second round, think of your application as a mosaic and each essay should be a unique piece of that mosaic. If all of those pieces come together, the committee will have a thorough picture of you.” However, Kim noted that ‘it is also important to keep in mind that all admissions committees are more keen to accepting applicants with clumped, interrelated, and impressive successes rather than many ‘excellent’ successes spread too thinly.”