Jahmire Cassanova (12) wins New York Times College Scholarship

Betsey Bennett, Staff Writer

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After writing five essays and completing three interviews, Jahmire Cassanova (12) became one of 10 recipients of this year’s New York Times College Scholarship, which provides tuition money, mentorship, and a summer job at the Times for students who have excelled under unfavorable circumstances.

In some of his essays, Cassanova wrote about persevering through a difficult family situation and a period of homelessness.

Cassanova’s college counselor recommended that he apply for the award at the beginning of the year, he said.

Cassanova found out that he had won the award on Sunday, March 4, when the leader of the program called him.

“I have a feeling that the award is going to lead to a lot of good things,” Cassanova said. “The only concrete thing is that I will not have college debt, and that’s going to be big, but I think even in the short run there are going to be a bunch of opportunities that open up during and after the internship.”

In the initial application, Cassanova wrote two essays about his background and challenges that he has faced over his lifetime. Then, when he was selected as a semifinalist, he wrote three more essays that focused on larger societal questions. As a finalist, Cassanova completed an interview with three people at the New York Times.

According to Cassanova, as a young boy he lived with a biological father who was an alcoholic and abusive to his mother.

“Then we met my dad now, Keith, and we sort of formed our own little family with him,” Cassanova said. “And then after we had started to become comfortable with each other, we became homeless, so there were some nights where we were in hotels or motels, but for the most part it was just in the car in lots by bridges.”

Cassanova did not tell anyone at school about these experiences until this year, he said.

Oliver Chonoles (12) was not surprised to hear that Cassanova received the scholarship.

“It’s a very big award, so anything can happen, but if there’s a person that deserves to get it, he’s that person,” Chonoles said. “Whenever he faces some kind of problem, he never whines about it, and he’s really solution-oriented.”

“I was absolutely thrilled to learn that he had won the New York Times College Scholarship,” History teacher Dr. Ellen Bales, who taught Cassanova in ninth and 10th grade, said. “He is highly deserving of this honor, and it is wonderful to see a student who is not only intelligent and insightful, but who has also shown exceptional perseverance and personal gravitas, receive an award of this magnitude.”

Cassanova looks forward to working at the Times this summer, either in a business internship or in the newsroom.