Hilton Head Preparatory School senior Kate Brunori let out a big sigh while clutching a plaque from the Heritage Classic Foundation. Like many graduating high school seniors at this time of year, Brunori is trying to decide where to go to college.
Fortunately for her, one decision she will not have to make is how to pay for it.
Brunori was one of 15 graduating Beaufort County high school seniors named Heritage Classic Foundation Scholars at a luncheon Tuesday on Hilton Head Island. The Heritage Classic Foundation runs the island's annual PGA Tour event.
Thirteen of the newly named scholars will receive scholarships worth $18,000 over four years. During the same period, two of the students -- Brunori and John Robert Griswald, who is home-schooled -- will receive scholarships worth $22,000 in honor of two previous chairmen of the foundation's Scholar Committee -- John Zimmerman and the late Mike Malanick.
"It's a true honor and is going to be such a big help," said Brunori, who plans to study journalism at Villanova University.
The Heritage Foundation announced last week it would distribute $1.5 million over three years to area charities and scholarship-winners, thanks to a grant from the Verizon Foundation, the communications company's philanthropic arm.
"Without this grant, the scholarship program would not have happened this year," said Ward Kirby, chairman of the Scholar Program.
Verizon or its corporate predecessors have sponsored the Heritage since 1987. It announced about 18 months ago the 2010 tournament would be its last in the title role. This year's tournament is being held without a title sponsor April 21-24 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines.
The Heritage Foundation normally pays for the scholarships with proceeds from the golf tournament. Heritage officials had said it would be unable to award scholarships this year because of the lack of a title sponsor.
The students boast grade-point averages of at least 3.8 and credentials in endeavors such as athletics, leadership and community service.
"These scholars are the best of the best in Beaufort County," Kirby said. "They excel academically" and are "leaders in their schools and communities."
The $750,000 will allow the Heritage foundation to meet its four-year financial commitment to the 15 high school seniors, as well as those who were named scholars during the past three years. This fall, 58 college students will receive $257,500 from the scholarship program, officials said.
Some money will be left over, but not enough to pay for another round of four-year scholarships for county high school seniors graduating next year, said Ed Dowaschinski, vice president of finance for the Heritage foundation.
The foundation has awarded $2.58 million to 222 students since the scholar program began in 1993.
Area educators on Tuesday said they were grateful to the Verizon Foundation and reiterated the importance of the Scholars Program at a time when college tuition at four-year institutions is on the rise and those with student loans struggle to repay their debt in the face of high unemployment.
"Expenses are beyond what kids can handle themselves," said Bluffton High School Principal Mark Dievendorf. "It's important to reward kids' effort and make something possible for maybe someone who wouldn't be able to take advantage of a college education without putting themselves in debt for years and years to come. This is very valuable and very meaningful to our kids, their parents and the community."