Community Spirit Shines Through Gates Millennium Scholar

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As the summer draws to a close. this week's Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever is on his way to Kansas State University, fortified with a much-sought-after college scholarship.  Ismael Hernandez is a Gates Millennium Scholar, recognized as one of America's top minority high school graduates of 2011.

Visiting the antiquated Argentine Public Library with his mom, Ismael Hernandez is eager for the successful completion of a fund raising campaign for a new, modern library.  Ismael has become a leader, like his mom and dad, in this community project and many others to revitalize the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas that is their home -- and has been for generations.

"Culture is very important to how the community is," says Ismael.  "It definitely shines through me."

In May, Ismael wrapped up four very successful years at Sumner Academy high school in Kansas City, Kansas.  He soared there in academics, leadership and activities, including earning his way to two national speech and debate tournaments as a senior, his only year in competitive speech.  And he spent countless hours as a volunteer tutor for students struggling in math.

"He's an amazing kid," says Mallory Parra, Sumner Academy Speech and Professional Life Skills Teacher.  "His heart's huge.  His spirit.  Just self-motivated.  He's really determined.  He knows he wants a future.  He's bound and determined to be successful."

All of Ismael's hard work and major accomplishments in school and community are paying off in a big way now.  He has hit the jackpot with one of America's most valuable college scholarships.  Ismael is a Gates Millennium Scholar, recognized as one the nation's most outstanding minority high school seniors of 2011.  The honor comes with a very lucrative scholarship that sends Ismael to Kansas State University and then grad school all-expenses-paid.

"I may not be the smartest person but I've put a lot of hard work into school," says Ismael.  "It's a balancing act but the Gates Millennium just shows even further how hard I've worked."

The scholarship is especially important for Ismael's family because they are not wealthy and his older sister has a chronic illness which consumes much of the family's finances.

"You have to keep up and help out for your family," says Ismael, "but at the same time you want to strive for your owns goals and not let that stop you but actually let it give you more motivation to do better and help them out."

And after he gets his degree in Architectural Engineering, Ismael intends to refocus his energies on rebuilding his home neighborhood -- and preserving his heritage.

"Coming back and just having the community grow is really important to me," says Ismael.  "And I hope to do that."

Ismael is one of just three Gates Millennium Scholars in the greater Kansas City region this year.  Reaching 4 Excellence congratulations go out, as well, to Marquita Grant of Hogan Prep Academy in Kansas City, Missouri and Deanna Oliver of William Chrisman High in Independence, Missouri.

Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments.  In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.  Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Phil Witt, Fox 4 News
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