Aljon Celis

Aljon Celis is seen at the Festhalle in this Times photo from March.

Wallace State graduate Aljon Celis, a 2020 Jack Kent Cooke scholar, begins classes this week at Stanford University in California.

Celis, also a Vinemont High graduate, was one of 50 Jake Kent Cooke scholarship recipients in April and chose Stanford over multiple prestigious colleges, including Brown University in Rhode Island, Cornell University in New York, Amherst College in Massachusetts, Emory University in Atlanta and the University of North Carolina.

As a national Jack Kent Cooke scholarship winner, it provides Celis with up to $40,000 a year to complete his bachelor’s degree.

“The decision to attend Stanford University was more difficult than I expected. When I became a Jack Kent Cooke semifinalist, I had Ivy League schools and some of the top 20 schools in America contacting me. It was a shock at first to receive that attention. I never thought I could have the opportunity to be on those radars,” Celis said.

Celis, a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines, plans to major in international relations and ultimately work for the United States government.

“I want to one day work with the United States citizenship and immigration services to help advocate for immigrants who deserve to move to the U.S., helping them become successfully integrated into American society. I went through the immigration process not too long ago, and it’s an expensive and difficult process. I want to help people flourish in this country, so they can focus on the American dream I’ve been blessed to achieve,” said Celis, 26, a general studies graduate. “Stanford offers a great opportunity in this field.”

Celis graduated from Vinemont in 2012 and worked through the naturalization process before enrolling at Wallace State for the first time in 2016.

“My educational journey has definitely had its ups and downs. I came from the Philippines at a young age, was thrown into an American school and had to learn English immediately. It was hard to endure at times. I made it and I’m grateful for the support I’ve received through it all from my friends, family, teachers at Vinemont and at Wallace State. I’ll wear my Wallace State colors proud at Stanford. Wallace State is what I consider a dream factory. It helped me pursue what I want to do in my life,” Celis said.

Celis was the only Jack Kent Cooke winner from Alabama and the second all-time at Wallace State.

In addition to financial support, scholarship recipients receive comprehensive educational advising from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to guide them through the process of transitioning to a four-year college and preparing for their careers. Scholars additionally receive opportunities for internships, study abroad, and graduate school funding, as well as connection to a thriving network of over 2,700 fellow Cooke Scholars and alumni.

Celis was also recognized last month as a national 2020 Sigma Kappa Delta award winner for his short fiction story “Brown,” a story about an immigrant of color who is struggling to overcome his identity crisis in modern day America.

Celis added he plans to prolong his writing efforts at Stanford.

“Stanford has a great creative writing program, and I want to use that to continue to develop as a writer,” he said.

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