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Three Queens teens win Rotary scholarships

Three teens who rose above adversity and succeeded despite insurmountable obstacles were recognized for their achievements last week.

Graduating seniors Katrina Butler, 17, of Jamaica; Gabriel Gavito, 17, of Bayside; and David Guo, 19, of Flushing, received $1,000 scholarships from members of the Flushing Rotary Club June 12. The scholarships, awarded during the club's weekly meeting at Il Fagiano on Utopia Parkway in Whitestone, are a chance to honor the accomplishments of the teens, said Rotarian member Vincent Gianelli, who helped select the students.

"We don't want an A student," said Anthony Civitano, another Rotarian member involved in the process. "We want someone who's pulled themselves up by the boot straps and made something of themselves."

For each of the students honored, the beginning of high school was marked with obstacles, which each managed to overcome and graduate with high grades.

St. Agnes High School student Katrina Butler said her time in high school "started out slow," but ended with her graduating with honors.

Just before her freshman year, Butler's mother suffered a stroke. Butler became her mother's primary care provider and often missed class to care for her.

"I was so worried about my mother, sometimes I would be depressed with all the drama on my mind and hope that she would get better," she said.

Still, giving up was not an option for Butler and by her junior year, her grades started to improve. "She always wanted me to go to college so I can have a better life than she had," Butler said of her mother. She plans to study accounting at Tuskegee University in Alabama this fall.

For Gavito, the start of high school was full of adjustments and hardships. His father died from cancer the summer before he entered Holy Cross High School. As a result, Gavito said he was "the guy off to the side" and struggled in school.

In his sophomore year, things started to change. His grades improved, he wrote for the school newspaper and joined the yearbook staff. He made the Principal's List in his last quarter at high school and plans to study veterinarian medicine at Mercy College this fall.

David Guo fell in with the wrong crowd when he started at Cardozo High School.

Guo said he was failing school because he often cut class and spent lunch breaks gambling. Starting in his sophomore year, Guo concentrated more on school, made new friends and eventually graduated with a B average. He will attend St. John's University this fall with plans to major in business.

The Flushing Rotary Club awards scholarships to three students each year. To make its decision, the group seeks recommendations from principals at six area schools, including St. Frances High School, Bayside High School and Flushing High School. Then a committee of Rotarian members make the final selection. This year the group increased the scholarships from $500 to $1,000 to match the mounting costs of books and tuition.

For Butler, who is depending on student loans to pay for college, the Rotary club scholarship was a welcomed surprise.

"I was overjoyed because that is a start to go towards my tuition," she said.

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