The students arrived in suits, skirts and slacks for a town hall on the benefits of higher education in Wyoming.
At least that’s what they thought.
The 14 high school seniors were finalists for a Daniels Fund scholarship, which covers college costs left over after other aid, scholarships and any family contribution for four years. Daniels Fund leaders had asked them to gather Tuesday at the Casper Boys & Girls Club financial literacy center for the discussion.
They listened as radio personality Bob Price told jokes and Riata Little, vice president of economic and project development at CAEDA, offered them advice. Little is a Daniels scholar who attended Buffalo High School and the University of Wyoming.
The Daniels Fund is a charitable foundation based in Denver that awards scholarships and grants. The foundation’s beneficiaries include the local Boys & Girls Clubs and a host of other nonprofits through Wyoming.
“The Daniels Fund scholarship program is much more than money,” Little told the students. “It is a never ending-relationship with a network of people who truly care about your individual success and who are there to help you through every phase of life. It is designed to push scholars to be more than just good students, to be active citizens and to make a difference every day.”
Daniels Fund CEO Linda Childears took the microphone next.
“We fibbed a little bit when we asked you to come here today,” she confessed. She asked the finalists to stand and gave them the news.
“You’re in!” Childears said.
The students stared for a moment. Then they began to grin and hug family members. Some wiped tears.
“It was definitely a ‘gotcha,’” said Hot Springs County High School student Shaynie Bauer.
Zach Gale had been waiting and praying he’d win the scholarship, he said. The Sheridan High School student plans to study secondary education at Montana State University or University of Montana Western. He’s also heard that Daniels Fund scholarships open doors beyond college as well.
“The giveback that Daniels scholars do to the program and their communities is something I look forward to doing,” Gale said.
The Daniels Fund has made surprise scholarship announces elsewhere, but Tuesday’s event was the first of its kind in Casper.
The looks on the students’ faces is the best part, said Childears, who would share similar good news that day with students in Cheyenne. They are among 33 Wyoming awardees this year.
Casper is important to the foundation because that’s where Daniels Fund founder Bill Daniels started the cable television business that built his fortune in 1954.
The scholarships are about more than money. The students said the awards will provide more options and opportunities.
Kade Gifford plans to study business at Black Hills State University and start a fabrication shop, following in the footsteps of a Lovell businessman he’s worked for, he said. His brother was also a Daniels scholar who’s now earning his doctorate degree in animal science, he added.
“My family has been through some hard times,” Gifford said. “And it’s such a blessing, really.”
Ryley Constable said he’d been waiting for four months to find out if he was accepted for the award. He can now study business at his college of choice, the University of Notre Dame.
“It’s like that feeling at the end of Rudy, when they’re carrying Rudy off the field,” Constable said. “I felt like all of us were just like one collective Rudy.”