Photo: Following recognition for decades of giving, Ralph Ellis and his wife Joy explain the importance of sports in education. /Photo by Nick Mallouf
Paying for college tuition is a constant shadow over many graduating high school seniors and their families. Luckily for Irving ISD students, the Irving Schools Foundation (ISF) awards over 100 scholarships to hardworking students at the annual Breakfast with the Stars event.
During this year’s ceremony, 131 scholarships were presented to students, teachers and ISD staff totaling $232,250. Each of these students were recognized at the April 26 breakfast presented by longtime Irving Schools Foundation partner, Nissan North America.
“I am shocked by having over 800 people in this room,” ISF executive director Crystal Scanio said. “I think it’s a testament of the value that the community of Irving puts on education.”
From its establishment in 1985, to 2015, the foundation has awarded more than $4,202,000 in scholarships. Last year alone, the foundation raised $975,000.
“These investments in our students ensure a brighter tomorrow with endless opportunities to succeed,” Scanio said. “I think today we made an investment of a quarter of a million dollars. I think it’s the best investment you can make. It’s an investment in our children, for their future, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a dollar.”
Four scholarships were also awarded to teachers and three scholarships were awarded to IISD staff members.
In addition to presenting the scholarships, celebrity emcee and WFAA Channel 8 News anchor Dr. John McCaa gave advice to the students in the room. Dr. McCaa described each student’s accomplishments and plans for the future before presenting them with certificates.
He credited parents for helping their children succeed through endless support and patience. This was McCaa’s 13th year of participating in Breakfast with the Stars, and just as in past years, he offered his personal email to those students looking for guidance on communications careers.
Nimitz High School senior Cindy Truong is one of the accomplished and hardworking students who received a scholarship this year.
“I got the Fernando Garcia Memorial Scholarship,” Truong said. “It’s awarded to a graduating senior who went to Bowie Middle School and has overcome obstacles to achieve academic success.”
With countless accolades, Tuaong serves as a great example for the kind of students being honored at the breakfast.
“I’m currently vice president of junior historians, and parliamentarian of Junior Honor Society,” she said. “This past year I was fortunate enough to be captain of the cross country team. By the end of the season, the Nimitz varsity cross country girls ended up winning district for the first time in Nimitz history, which was amazing.”
After visiting the campus, Truong decided to attend the University of Texas at Austin in the fall.
“I remember the first time I went to UT to visit a friend, and I had an amazing time while I was there,” she said. “When I came back home, I realized I really missed the campus, so I think that was what really sold me on UT.”
After receiving her undergraduate degree, Truong plans to attend medical school.
“I have a family friend who is in the medical field, and when I first met him, he was the first person that influenced me to want to go into the medical field,” Truong said. “He’s told me incredible stories about how he’s helped people, how his job is very demanding, but that he knows he’s making a difference in someone else’s life so it’s worth it.”
Truong credits her success and drive to the people around her.
“I would like to thank all of my teachers, there are too many to name that have helped me over the years,” she said. “Also, my parents are the foundation to who I owe my success. Of course my little brothers too, I come home to them every day and they just make me laugh and help me with stress.”
“I really want to say thank you to the donors of the scholarship. Paying for college will be less of a burden thanks to them,” Truong said.
Irving couple, Ralph and Joy Ellis, have relieved the burden for of college education for 168 Irving ISD students. For this reason, they were honored during this year’s Breakfast with the Stars ceremony.
“We’ve always had a low threshold for the applicants,” Ralph said. “They have to be in the top third of the class, they have to participate in athletics their junior or senior years; that’s all they have to do. They don’t have to be a letterman or the team captain or in the National Honor Society.
“Our scholarships are named the Joy and Ralph Ellis Scholarship for Athletes, and we are frequently asked, why a scholarship for athletes rather than a scholarship for scholars?
“Here’s our answer: from the athletic side, we believe that participation in sports is a vital part of an education,” Ralph said. “Where better to learn at an early age how to handle success, or how to handle failure, than on an athletic field of play?
“Where better to learn about trust and teamwork, integrity, friendships, commitment and so many other life values? Values that are not necessarily learned in books or taught in a classroom. We think that is a valuable part of an education,” he said.
Ralph and Joy believe that like with physical growth, mental growth occurs at different times as well, and it’s important to give students who may not stand out immediately, a chance to be pushed toward success.
“We’re trying to find students who may not go to college, because they don’t think they have the grades, they’re not smart enough, or they don’t have the money,” he said. “But maybe with a little push and our scholarship, they get into college, their brain power develops, they find out they can do the work, make the grades and get their college degrees.
“We have given 168 4-year scholarships over the years. We think that if we can help just one out of ten of these young men and women, we have done our job,” Ralph said.