The essay question was a breeze for Bluffton High School valedictorian Jacob George.
What four people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?
"I knew there were four family members I really needed to be with: My father, brother, sister and my mother," George said. "That was my choice right away. I haven't seen my entire family in a while."
George's father passed away when he was young and his brother died in May 2008. Josh George, 17, was killed in a prom-night accident by a driver believed to be drunk but ultimately never prosecuted.
Though neither would join him at the table for lunch or see him clutching a plaque from the Heritage Classic Foundation Tuesday, the high school senior said their presence was felt.
"These are the people who made me who I am today, and I really couldn't accept this honor without thanking them first," he said. "I know they'd be proud right now but would remind me there's a lot of work ahead and this is just one opportunity I need to capitalize on."
George 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, the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing. This year's event will be April 9-15 at Sea Pines' Harbour Town Golf Links.
Thirteen of the newly named scholars will receive scholarships worth $18,000 over four years. During the same period, two of the students -- George and Hilton Head Island High School valedictorian Nicholas Zarra -- 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.
The Heritage Foundation announced last year 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. Half is used for the Heritage Scholar program, and the other half is given to nonprofit organizations focused on education, literacy, health and safety.
The students, chosen from among 73 applicants, boast grade-point averages of at least 3.8 and credentials in endeavors such as athletics, theater, music, leadership and community service.
"These are well-rounded students who are actively involved in their schools, communities and churches," Heritage Classic Foundation Scholar chairman Ward Kirby said.
Next fall, 59 college students will receive $273,500 from the scholarship program, officials said. The foundation has awarded more than $2.7 million to 237 students since the scholar program began in 1993, according to a news release.
Foundation officials and 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.
"Considering I want to go to med school, graduating undergrad without a lot of debt would be ideal," said Beaufort High School salutatorian Malcolm Kates, who plans to become a radiologist. "Financial aid from colleges is generous, but it's one of the prime considerations for college this year. This scholarship is very helpful to round out the entire (financial aid) package.
"We're extremely lucky to have this here in Beaufort County. I know a lot of friends in other places going to college who don't have opportunities like this."
- VIDEO: Heritage Classic Foundation donates $200K to charity: March 15, 2012
- 15 county students named Heritage Foundation Scholars: April 12, 2011
- Verizon surprises local charities with $1.5 million gift to Heritage foundation: April 4, 2011
- Solicitor drops charges against man first suspected in crash that killed Josh George: July 16, 2009