It’s the ultimate college scholarship, all four years paid. And for The Dalles High School senior Hanna Rodriguez, her journey to a full ride at Seattle University had a very lucky bounce to it.
As one of about 800 students accepted to the incoming freshman class, she was among 300 invited to seek the Sullivan Leadership Award.
As it happened, the topic the invitees were asked to write about, voter suppression, was one Rodriguez could write about personally.
The year before, she’d run for senior class secretary and won the popular vote, but because of the way teacher input was weighted, she didn’t win. She knew something was amiss when the votes came in, and she asked some questions.
She wasn’t seeking to overturn the results, she said, she just felt the student body wasn’t well represented.
“I felt like students should be taught that when they vote that their vote counts, so when they turn 18 and they go to the ballot box they’ll feel they’re doing something right.”
After her inquiries, “We found out we had been doing them wrong the whole time. It sparked a whole change; we changed the entire code of conduct this year and I actually ended up winning the position I was going for.”
That happened after they held the election again, under the updated voting format.
Her essay was good enough to bump her to the finalist round, made up of 45 students. From there, she had to create a five-minute presentation on a proposal to combat voter suppression.
She tried it out first on her leadership class at school, and her nerves got to her. “I ended up crying the first time I tried to give it, which — that was great,” she deadpanned.
But, when she did it online for the scholarship committee, she clearly nailed it.
She was named one of just nine recipients this year of the Sullivan award. It also pays for her to do a year of study abroad.
For three years, TDHS teacher Robert Wells-Clark worked with Rodriguez in the AVID program, which works with students in the academic middle who have potential.
“Her development as a leader and student over that time has been dramatic,” Clark said. “Always a very hard working student, she has become one of the best critical thinkers, problem solvers and leaders I have had the pleasure of teaching.”
He added, “It is no surprise to me that she was awarded the Sullivan Award. Her outside the box thinking will suit her so well in her life, and her leadership skills mean bright things for us as a community. I am very proud of her and happy to have seen her develop over her high school years!”
Even without her personal election story, Rodriguez was generally aware of voter suppression because of her own studies.
She loves history and has taken every history class she could. She’s a political science junkie and has several career routes in mind: Maybe law school, maybe being a diplomat, or perhaps running a political campaign.
She’s taken six college-level Advanced Placement classes. “I’ve taken almost all the AP classes we have,” said Rodriguez, who is a year ahead in math and science.
Rodriguez lives with her dad, Vicente Rodriguez, who moved here from Mexico when he was just 4, and her paternal grandmother.
She speaks Spanish, but she took Japanese because “I just wanted to challenge myself with a language I would totally have no idea how to understand.”
Certainly unsurprisingly given the nature of her scholarship, Rodriguez has held a number of leadership roles at the school. In addition to being senior class secretary, she’s an executive on the National Honor Society board, and on the Juntos/MCHA board, and is vice president of the Leos Club. She’s an elected chief science officer for The Dalles High School, and was captain of the swim team.
“I was always participating in events,” she recounted. “Always being there eventually ended up in my being in a leadership position. I never meant to be there, but once I got into a leadership position it was like, ‘Oh, this is where I want to be.’”
It gives her a sense of “fulfillment. I feel good when I get a project done or an event goes smoothly and I really just like working with other people and like having a team to work on things. And I’ve just always been into community service.”
AP teacher Mary Jo Commerford said several students have made it to the finalist stage for the Sullivan scholarship, but Rodriguez is the first winner. “We are really proud and this is an exceptional award.”
Rodriguez is a standout student. “I remember the first essay she wrote, it was so impressive,” Commerford said, and it was written in such a strong voice. She wondered, “Is this for real? And then she writes another and another, and yeah, that’s her voice.
“She has a lot going on in her head and she has a really strong sense of social justice and a really keen eye for what’s right and wrong in the world and a really strong ethical dial,” Commerford said. “And I know this leadership scholarship, that’s what they want.”
Commerford said the award “can make our community proud, that this is the kinds of kids we’re raising communally.”