Two HCC students chosen to attend Presidential Gala, Inauguration
We find students leave the event with improved self-confidence and self-esteem
RUSKIN — They aren’t what you think of when you think of college students. They’re older, wiser, and have already set their goals.
They are honor students and they each have overcome, or are overcoming, tremendous medical odds to have gotten as far as they have. Both say they’ve only just started.
Their grades, grit and goals have earned them a trip to Washington DC to the Presidential Gala and Inauguration. While there, between Jan. 19 and Jan. 23, they will also get to tour and attend other events.
In September, Karen Lewandowski, 50, and Nicole Lynch-Schuyler, 31, received emails telling them they had been selected to attend the Collegiate Presidential Inaugural Conference. Neither was sure why they had been chosen to attend until they asked at Hillsborough Community College where Lynch-Schuyler is president and Lewendowski is vice president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
Both have not only maintained Honor Society GPA’s, they do all kinds of extra-curricular activities.
Schuyler had met Dr. Kenneth Ray, an administrator, and Dr. Kenneth Atwater, president of HCC’s five campuses at leadership fundraising events.
“Nicole manned a table to HCC SouthShore’s Open House, and at the Presidential Showcase (which was a fundraising event) in Tampa,” Lewandowski said. “So when it came time to decide how we would pay our way to the event, she just approached him and asked.”
HCC agreed, saying it would be good for the school.
The students said they were chosen because they aren’t “typical students,” and each fit into one or more of the “exceptional student categories,” their older age and high grades being two factors.
But not only do they have grades, they also have grit.
“I was injured in an automobile accident in 2006 and have had six surgeries since,” Schuyler said. Three were spinal surgeries. She is diagnosed with permanent neurological dystrophy, but she wasn’t happy with staying inside and not doing the things she was used to, which included rock climbing and SCUBA diving.
One of the ways she fights the pain is with laughter.
“I finally decided I was going to do what I wanted. I still have pain, but I fight it by being silly. People, like Karen who know me well, know when the pain’s the worst because that’s when I joke around the most and get the silliest.”
The thing she thinks is most ironic is that she was on her way to the doctor’s office to have stitches removed from knee surgery when the accident occurred.
“I just have to elevate myself. I don’t want to live on pain medication, especially now. If I need them much worse later (in life) they either won’t work right or I’ll have too high a tolerance for them to work at all.”
She says getting in water- any water- whether a bathtub or swimming pool, helps too.
Lewandowski has had her own medical hardships to overcome, having taken rounds of chemotherapy for cancer and then gone straight to school, being driven by friends or classmates, often using a walker or cane.
And along with their grades and grit, these two also have goals.
After HCC, Schuyler plans to major in premed at the University of Virginia and Lewandowski will major in either political science or communications at the University of South Florida.
Lewandowski said she likes to polarize people to think and then express their ideas. “Once I get them started working on something, I go on to something else,” she said.
Schuyler isn’t certain yet whether she’ll eventually study osteopathic medicine or pharmacy. That, she says, depends on several things, including whether she and her fiancée want to start a family.
“Medical careers aren’t something you train for quickly,” she said. “There are a lot of years involved.”
Meanwhile, the two are looking forward to their trip to Washington.
“We’re going to learn a lot about the Presidential process there,” Lewandowski said.
The Collegiate Presidential Inaugural Conference is held every four years along with the Inauguration. This year 900 students from all over the country will attend. Not all who are invited can attend because unless they are sponsored, they have costs.
The two South County students say they are extremely grateful their school has honored them with sponsorship.
While in DC they will get to interact with political experts and analysts, network with leaders of both parties, and take part in the celebratory events, including the black-tie Gala as well as watching the Inauguration.
The student event is put together by Envision EMI, which partners with leading educational organizations, businesses and government to give them real world experience. EMI takes nominations from teachers and other educators and chooses according to a list of factors that are set in categories.
“Many of the students are nominated to attend Envision EMI’s programs directly by educators. Teachers are encouraged to select students who demonstrate academic achievement, maturity and leadership potential,” said Envision EMI Vice President Regan Lamb in an email interview Dec. 28. “There are numerous benefits to students attending the Collegiate Presidential Inaugural Conference. This unique event, held only once every four years in conjunction with our nation’s most historic and celebrated tradition, helps students to continue to grow and develop as students and leaders. By pushing them to step outside of their comfort zone and challenge themselves among the highest achieving students in the nation, we find students leave the event with improved self-confidence and self-esteem.”
Inauguration is always on a specific date — Jan. 20 — but this year that is a Sunday so it will be done privately and then again publicly on Monday.
The Gala will be held at the Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, to which the students will gain early admission so they can view it.
According to information on EMI’s website, www.envisionemi.com, this year’s students will hear keynote speakers Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who has been associated with movements for civil rights, equality and economic justice for more than 35 years.
At the time of the interview for this story, Lewendowski and Schuyler were deciding which gowns to wear to the Gala.
Schuyler had already chosen one and Lewandowski was at The Rose Boutique in Ruskin, which donates all its profits to the Mary and Martha House shelter for abused and homeless women and their children.
Both said they were extremely excited. “It’s a chance of a lifetime,” Lewandowski said.
To find out more about the Collegiate Conference, visit www.inauguralscholar.com/collegiate.