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Sandy Journal

Alta High graduate receives Canyons Foundation scholarship

Oct 04, 2017 11:00AM ● By Julie Slama

Alta High graduate Vinnie Vala’au thanks the Canyons Education Foundation scholarship committee for the 2,500 Rising Star Scholarship. (Canyons School District)

This fall, as Alta High School graduate Vinnie Vala’au may be attending a counseling class at Southern Utah University, he will be thankful for all the support he received from Alta High faculty and staff as well as the Canyons Education Foundation. 

Vinnie received a $2,500 Rising Star Scholarship from the foundation.

“I was called down to the counseling office and I thought I was in trouble. I saw balloons and a camera behind me. I saw my counselor crying. Then, they told me I received the Rising Star Scholarship and it hit me I had money for college,” he said. “It’s very cool to get the scholarship — any support I receive is so helpful with my next level of education.”

This scholarship, along with six $1,000 Bright Star Scholarships, was awarded based on applicants’ abilities to overcome difficulties in their life, said Foundation Officer Laura Barlow.

“We awarded the scholarships to students who we see a difference in their life, whether it’s improving their grades, or overcoming a trial in their lives,” Barlow said. “Many students have a need and through the scholarship, we hope we’re able to help them succeed in their future.”

This is the second year Canyons Education Foundation has awarded scholarships.

Vala’au had to find his way to a bright future — twice.

Vala’au and his younger brother and sister moved from their homeland, Samoa, to live in America to get a better education and more stable home with his aunt and uncle, said his counselor, Kelsie Court.

“He had to adjust to a whole new living situation, country, school,” she said. “It was cultural shock for sure. Vinnie had to adapt to a more strict setting, but he jumped in with two feet and found his way. He ended up doing well in honors and AP classes that first year.”

Vala’au played football for the Hawks and liked the camaraderie with his teammates. He even took a part-time job to help with costs for him and his siblings to live in Utah and save for college, Court said.

However, the start of his senior year, a knee injury that led to surgery sidelined him for the season and his football career.

“It was rough for him. He really took a tailspin. He started missing classes. The teachers reached out to him offering to help or have him come by after school to use computers to finish homework. We ended up having a heart-to-heart conversation about what he wanted and how he needed to get there. He had to realize his identity as a football player was over and had to balance his schoolwork with his family and reshape his expectations so he would graduate,” she said. 

That was a turning point. Vala’au crawled back, listened to his counselor, took the help of teachers and transformed.

“I focused on one class at a time. I went to each teacher. I stayed after school. I wanted to honor my family and gain their respect for doing my best. I didn’t want to take this chance at education for granted. I want to learn,” he said.

Vala’au became more aware of others who may have been feeling left out or needed some support.

“He always has a smile or is looking out for other people. He listens. If he sees someone by himself, he will go sit, listen, offer to hang out, make the person laugh. He goes out of his way to be empathetic and makes a connection. He has a maturity about him that is unusual for students this age,” Court said.

Vala’au also supported his teammates by wearing his old uniform jersey to games, leading students to cheer for the team, she added.

“He loves learning, making a difference in people’s lives and he doesn’t expect anything back — ever,” Court said. “He’s changed my life forever, whether he realizes it or not.”

 Other Bright Star winners recognized were Jennifer Pomeroy, from Alta High; Cassandra Hatcher, from Brighton High; Hailee Thorn, from Corner Canyon High; Danielle Coccimiglio, from Hillcrest High; and Ismael Zarate-Guillen, from Jordan High.