“Congratulations, 2014 Gates Millennium Scholar!”
That’s the text that Ivette Cruz sent her twin sister Elisa when she learned they had both been offered one of the nation’s most prestigious college scholarships.
“I came home and saw the two envelopes from Gates on the table,” said Ivette. “I tore mine open and immediately started screaming.”
Ivette’s parents, both natives of Mexico, screamed just as loud, as did her two younger siblings. But twin sister Elisa, who also had an envelope from the Gates Foundation, was at a track meet.
“I didn’t dare open Elisa’s, because I knew she’d be mad,” said Ivette. “But I could see it was as thick as mine, so I knew it must be good news.”
Both seniors at World Language High School, the sisters had been eagerly anticipating news from the Gates Foundation, but were dubious about both being offered scholarships.
“I never thought we’d both get it,” said Elisa. “There are so many applicants, and the scholarships are distributed all over the country. I never thought our school could get two, let alone our family.”
It was in fact a rarity. Elisa and Ivette are the first set of twins ever to be named to the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program, which provides 1,000 students per year with a good-through-graduation scholarship that can be used to pursue an undergraduate degree in any field. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the GMS Program strives to remove barriers to education for high-performing, low-income students, providing them not only with financial support, but with leadership development, mentoring, and academic and social support.
“The Gates Foundation’s generosity proves our motto: a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in,” said Michael Lomax, President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), which administers the GMS Program. “This is not only an investment in the futures of these extraordinary young people, but also in the country’s economic strength and competitiveness.”
For Elisa and Ivette, who plan to attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison, it is simply a dream come true.
“It’s the perfect end to a journey that started our freshmen year,” said Elisa. “We’ve been disciplined and stayed focused on our futures, getting good grades and being involved in extracurricular and community activities. It’s been a long process, but it’s so worth it.”
As twins, Elisa and Ivette are naturally close, spending a good deal of time together both in and out of school. They share most of the same classes, and are both involved in service organizations like Enlace, a program to develop leadership and service skills among Latino youth. But their interests and ambitions are very different. Elisa runs track, studies martial arts, and wants to study Engineering in college, while Ivette enjoys poetry and performing, and plans to pursue a degree in English or Psychology.
“We’re very different, but we understand each other’s interests and are always there to support and help each other,” said Ivette.
Though they do not plan to share a dorm room next fall, both girls are happy that they will be together on the same campus.
“Because our interests are so different, I wasn’t sure we’d end up in the same place,” said Elisa. “But I’m really glad we did, because we’ve always been together, and having my twin sister there will make leaving home for the first time a lot easier.”