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Scholarships named for the mustang, the mascot of MHS; winners all demonstrated 'a sense of purpose for serving or giving back to others in some way'

Milwaukie High School's Mustang spirit is alive and well, said Kami Aguilar, board chair of the Mustang Born Alumni Scholarship Foundation. In its second year the foundation awarded four $2,500 scholarships to Milwaukie High School graduates. The scholarships are named for the mustang, the mascot of MHS, and winners all demonstrated "a sense of purpose for serving or giving back to others in some way," Aguilar said.

The four recipients are: Odalis Aguilar-Aguilar, Alev Ersan, Casey Gardner and Gideon Yamada.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Mustang Scholarship winners are, left to right, Casey Gardner, Gideon Yamada, Odalis Aguilar-Aguilar and Alev Margaret Ersan.  The selection process begins with a thorough application review by each board member evaluating the completed applications in the following areas: community engagement, extracurricular activities, college and career goals, financial need, and letters of recommendation.

The reviewers narrow down the applicants to create a list of top finalists, and then the board and one or more alumni volunteers interview each finalist.

"The foundation is really looking for students who embody what it means to be a Mustang," Aguilar said.

The board looks for students who demonstrate active engagement and commitment to the Mustang family and greater community as a whole, as well as those who exhibit strength and resilience in the face of adversity, she said.

"We have been thrilled to learn that the Mustang pride and spirit we hold dear as alumni of Milwaukie High School continue to flourish with the current generation of Mustangs," Aguilar said.

What the board discovered in its second year is that the "staff, students and community that make up Milwaukie High School and Milwaukie Academy of the Arts are providing its students with the tools, support and resources necessary to become strong, independent citizens determined to make a positive contribution by passionately pursuing their college and career goals."

The four scholarship recipients "set themselves apart by demonstrating incredible resilience and ability to tackle adversity head on while continuing to be positively engaged in school," Aguilar said.

"The foundation is very proud to provide a small amount of financial support to each of these fine, young people as they set off on their post-high school journey with their Mustang pride alive in their hearts."

Odalis Aguilar-Aguilar

College plans: Aguilar-Aguilar is 19 and will attend the University of Oregon, where she hopes to study political science or ethnic studies with an emphasis in Chicano/Latin studies.

"I chose this field because during my educational career I was never taught my own history. We always learned about the Greeks, the monarchies in Europe or the Chinese Empire, but never Central American history," she said.

Challenges: When Aguilar-Aguilar's grandmother died during her sophomore year at MHS, she flew to Mexico to be with family members. When she returned to school, she was failing almost all of her classes, but with the support of her teachers, Aguilar-Aguilar ended the year with straight A's. She also worked full time through high school, returning home at 11 p.m. with piles of homework still to do.

"Working and attending school taught me to manage my time better and be more responsible," she said.

Memories of MHS: Aguilar-Aguilar said her fondest moment at MHS came during the 2018 Noche Latina. That's when a little girl recognized her from a newspaper article about Aguilar-Aguilar helping non-English speaking students.

"She told me that I had inspired her to do the same at her school. When she said that, I felt like I accomplished something huge," she said.

"And it wasn't about being recognized or anything, it was learning that younger generations are helping each other. When she told me I was her role model, I had an indescribable feeling. All my sleepless nights and hard work finally paid off," Aguilar-Aguilar said.

Demolishing the building: The building that housed Milwaukie High School for decades is being razed. Aguilar-Aguilar said she is sad to see the building being demolished, but she knows it's time for a change.

She added, "I think the future students will appreciate the new building."

Alev Ersan

College plans: Ersan is 18 and will attend Oregon State University to study civil engineering. "With the increasing amount of natural disasters, I want to build infrastructure that will withstand them and figure out ways to make the rebuilding process quicker and more efficient," she said.

Learning that she was a scholarship winner made her realize that other people believed in her and recognized her hard work.

"I am grateful that my community is behind me, and I will strive to find ways to give back in my career," Ersan said.

Memories of MHS: "Every homecoming week I felt so close to my classmates, and it made me really look forward to coming to school," she said.

Demolishing the building: "I will miss the old Milwaukie High School building because I have made so many great memories there," Ersan said.

"However, I feel that a new building is needed, and I'm excited for the next generation of Mustangs to have a new building that everyone can be proud of."

Casey Gardner

College plans: Gardner is 18 and will attend Oregon State University, where he will be enrolled in the honors college. He will begin as a pre-civil engineering student but will most likely transfer to mechanical engineering.

During his internship with Precision Castparts Corp., Gardner worked on a team with all sorts of engineers and tried a variety of projects.

"I found that mechanical engineering is not only a broader subject, but also a career I think I will enjoy more," Gardner said.

Winning the scholarship reinforced his feeling that his academic efforts in high school are helping fund his college education.

Memories of MHS: Gardner said he has countless good memories of Milwaukie High School, including sporting events, homecoming week and Relay for Life.

Demolishing the building: Gardner has bittersweet feelings about the building being demolished.

"Seeing it prepped for demolition made me realize how many good times and how many good memories I have in that building," he said.

Gardner realized the building was beyond repair, and he thinks the new generation should have a new school.

He added, "On the other hand, I think the original MHS had a gorgeous building, and I think it has a ton of historical significance in the Milwaukie community. All in all, I'm pretty sad to see it go down."

Gideon Yamada

College plans: Yamada is 18 and will attend Portland State University, majoring in biology with a focus on pre-pharmacy.

"I have chosen to major in this field because I plan to go back to Saipan and contribute my help," he said.

Challenges: When Yamada found out he was a scholarship recipient, he knew he had made the right decision to go on to college. He had his share of obstacles during high school, but noted that those challenges helped shape him into the person he is now.

Memories of MHS: "I did my best to get involved with everything during high school. While doing so, I created many fond memories through the four years," Yamada said.

Demolishing the building: "I'm sad that Milwaukie High has to come down," Yamada said. "But I'm also really excited to see the new change."

Support Mustangs

To make a donation, send a check to Mustang Born Alumni Scholarship Foundation, 11300 S.E. 23rd Ave., Milwaukie, OR 97222.

Visit mustangbornfund.com, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call 971-506-4749.

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