BUCKHANNON – High school students have a lot on their plates: trying to figure out what classes they want and what their future goals will be; what they want to do post-graduation; and which college, career or branch of military service they might want to serve in.
For college-bound students, extra worries about how they will pay for college — or later pay off their student loans — is an added weight.
But on Thursday, at least one of those concerns was alleviated for one Buckhannon-Upshur High School sophomore.
Benjamin Currence, son of David and Melinda Currence of Buckhannon, was one of the five four-year college scholarship winners selected this week in the ‘Do It For Baby Dog’ Round 2 winners, an initiative orchestrated by W.Va. Governor Jim Justice in hopes that his photogenic English bulldog — and a slew of attractive prizes and incentives — might convince more West Virginians to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
My Buckhannon caught up with Benjamin Friday at Buckhannon-Upshur High School between classes, and he said he found out about his good fortune on Thursday during his second-block math class.
“My teacher told me to call my mother and I was pretty concerned because that almost never happens,” Benjamin said. “She told me everything was okay and that I was one of the winners of a four-year college scholarship.”
Benjamin said he was in shock at hearing the news and soon realized this development could change his life forever. He had signed up for the prizes offered in the contest but never though he had a chance to really win anything.
Benjamin said he had received his COVID-19 vaccine shortly after they became available for students in his age range.
“I have always thought vaccinations were a good thing,” Benjamin said. “I think it is a smart thing to do. It helps you with antibodies. I had COVID before that and it was not fun – and I definitely did not want to get it again.”
At Buckhannon-Upshur High School, Benjamin is in choir and theater classes.
“I take guitar class and I am a member of the Sound Waves, the high school competitive choir,” Benjamin said. “I am going to be carrying the banner for the band in the upcoming parade. I really love the arts. I served as a stagehand during the ‘Mary Poppins’ play.”
Another one of Benjamin’s passions is science.
“I enjoy science and think it is really cool,” he said. “Outside of school I enjoy participating in community service projects to help others. It is really fun.”
Benjamin said this scholarship will really help with his future goals, which may include earning a degree in engineering at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
“I am going to go and check out the town and college pretty soon,” he said. “It seems like a place I would really like to be at.”
He said he plans to continue in the arts because he really enjoys that.
“But engineering or architecture seem to really be up my alley,” Benjamin said.
The B-UHS sophomore realized his luck could be a game-changer.
“My brother is going through college and he has had to put so much money into it,” Benjamin shared. “I will not have to do that.”
He said when he thinks about winning the scholarship it is still crazy and he said the reality of it has not yet had time ‘to sink in.’
Benjamin said his parents first found out he won the scholarship because people were messaging them and asking if “their Benjamin” was the winner.
“My mom called the Governor’s Office and discovered it was really me who won the scholarship,” Benjamin said. “I was told she started hyperventilating when she found out. My dad thinks me winning the scholarship is amazing.”
Benjamin said winning this scholarship is the most exciting thing that has happened in his life so far.
“This will change my life forever,” he said. “Getting out of college without having any student debt is crazy. My friends mostly offered their congratulations and are shocked to learn I was the winner.”
He said he wanted to thank Governor Jim Justice for offering these opportunities to the residents of West Virginia.
“Even though I did not expect to win anything, the fact that I won such a big thing is crazy,” Benjamin said. “I could be planning to leave college with lots of student debt – but now I will be able to graduate from college free of debt. It takes years to pay off student debt and thankfully, I will not have to worry about that when I start my career.”