In the middle of an intense boys' basketball game between crosstown rivals Thursday night, fans of Butte's two high schools came together to cheer on a pair of big winners: Aryana Rodrigues, a Butte Central senior, and Grayson Gleason, a Butte High senior.
During halftime at the Butte Civic Center, Amanda Badovinac, Montana Tech's director of marketing and public relations, announced that Rodrigues and Gleason have been awarded full-ride Montana Resources Opportunity Scholarships to Montana Tech.
The scholarships are intended specifically for students who would be the first in their immediate families to graduate from college, and they pay for everything from tuition to books to room and board for four years.
That Rodrigues and Gleason received the awards was a surprise to everyone, including the awardees, and their surprise was evident.
Gleason said he had "not a clue" he'd be getting the award.
Asked what it meant, he said, "It means the world to me."
And not only to him. As he talked, a friend ran up to him, gave him a hug, and cried.
Gleason's friend wasn't the only one shedding tears. Rodrigues's mother Denise got emotional too while talking about the award.
"It's amazing to me, very life-changing," she said.
As for Ariana, who had spent most of the evening behind a drum kit as the lead drummer in the Butte Central High School rock band, she said, "I'm really excited to go to Tech."
Both students plan to use the opportunity to pursue nursing degrees in college.
The scholarships are part of the university's Butte Initiative program, which seeks to provide access to higher education to kids who otherwise might not have it. Funds for the scholarships come from a $597,000 donation made by the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation in conjunction with Montana Resources.
That donation has already funded three former Butte students currently enrolled at Tech — Heather Martin, Josh Hedrick, and Sadie Starcevich — and will keep launching first-generation students to campus while the Montana Tech Foundation continues to work toward establishing a $2-million endowment to provide multiple scholarships a year in perpetuity.
"Montana Tech has the ability to take people from the ordinary to the extraordinary," said Mike McGivern, MR vice president for human resources, on Thursday. "And this scholarship is going to give these young people a chance to attend a world-class university, help their families. Help them and — hopefully — help Butte, Montana."
Joe McClafferty, president of the Montana Tech Foundation and Tech's vice chancellor for advancement and university relations, is a Butte native who says "poverty is the biggest issue we have in town" and who believes "poverty can be beaten by education." And these scholarships, he said, give students the tools they need get that education and overcome their often challenging backgrounds.
"It really gives a kid an opportunity to do something they need to do," McClafferty said.
According to Michael Barth, executive director of the Montana Tech Foundation, the students were chosen for their commitment and desire to better themselves through education, for the grit and perseverance they exhibited during their high school careers, and for epitomizing Butte's hard-working ethic.
Butte Central Principal J.P. Williams said, "I think it's just fantastic that no matter what high school they come from in Butte, they're going to get this opportunity."
Rodrigues is not the only Central student who could benefit from the opportunity, he noted. According to Williams, about four of his school's 24-person senior class would be first-generation college students, if given the chance.
And one more student from this year's class of graduating Butte students will indeed get that chance. According to Badovinac, one more Montana Resources Opportunity Scholarship will be awarded to a Butte senior later this winter or early this spring.