Goerzen wins Boettcher scholarship
Childhood among Indonesian poor influences attitude toward life
Coronado High School senior Grant Goerzen has been honored with the coveted Boettcher Foundation scholarship.
For the CHS student body president, the award means the opportunity for a five-year tution-paid education at Denver University.
“It's awesome,” he said.
The award caps a high school career in which he not only has been very active in extracurricular school activities, but has also devoted a great many hours volunteering outside of school.
He does so much volunteering that the easiest way to get along with other students, he modestly confessed in an interview, is not to tell them about it.
Some of his achievements are obvious, like being student body president and a Student Council member the year before that. Most of his peers probably also know he's competed in three sports during his four-year high school career, and he was also quite visible leading cheers at the Coronado basketball team's home playoff game last February.
Less well known are the elderly lady he drives around on errands, the other senior citizens to whom he gives computer lessons, or his work as a camp counselor. Then there's the list of what he calls “one-time things,” including helping out at the Pikes Peak Ascent, giving swim lessons and helping build a house with Habitat for Humanity.
Meanwhile he's managed to be a top student who will graduate near the top of his class.
“I try not to be the kind of person who puts it in their faces,” Grant said. “I volunteer because I want to do it. Most people probably don't know I do it. I try not to talk about myself too much.”
If such self-effacement sounds unusual for an American kid, it may be because he isn't the usual American kid. For the first 12 years of his life, his parents, Ron and Sue Goerzen, served as missionaries in Indonesia. They lived in the midst of “very poor” people, Grant recalled. “I've seen people living in cardboard boxes.”
Next door to the Goerzens was a tin shed. Its resident came over one day with a simple request: to connect an extension cord to the Goerzens' outlet so as to turn on a single light bulb.
Coming to America was a “real big adjustment,” Grant said. Describing himself as “pretty shy,” he had to get used to the faster- paced American life, with the materialism, the movies and the music.
But he's never forgotten the best aspects of the Indonesian culture, with its emphasis on relationships instead of possessions. It influenced his decision to major in international business in college.
“I don't know if I'll go back to Indonesia, but I might live in another country,” he said. “Whatever country I go to, I'll try to respect their values and understand where they're coming from.”
His childhood overseas experience led Grant to one of his ongoing volunteering jobs, as a counselor at a camp for youngsters who've lived overseas like he did.
Even as he talks to them about fitting in, he said he stresses the importance of not discarding their background in their haste to “become like everyone else.” He said he tells them: “'Don't leave what you've learned behind. Hold onto what made you you.'”
Jim Keating, a counselor for gifted students at Coronado, said that when Grant came to Coronado as a freshman, “he initially retreated into the world of academics.” Over time, however, he “got more involved and really blossomed,” Keating said.
The counselor said the Boettcher scholarship, granted to only 40 Colorado high school graduates a year, is “arguably the most prestigious in the state of Colorado.” Until last year, when Coronado graduate Brian Margrave won the award, no one from CHS had been so honored since 1984.
Considering that the cost of a year at Denver University is about $37,000, a five-year scholarship (the fifth year allowing the chance to obtain a master's degree) is worth close to $200,000, Keating said.
Asked about the award, Grant deflected the praise to the school. “All my teachers have been really great,” he said.
One of his greatest joys at Coronado has been his four-year participation on the cross-country team, of which he was team captain for the past two seasons. “It's been a big part of my life,” he said, although allowing with a grin, “I'm a pretty slow runner, actually.”
Cross-country coach Doug Hugill had to agree with the latter assessment, noting that Grant even “got bumped off varsity” during the season. Yet Hugill never thought twice about keeping him as captain. “He has great character and a positive attitude that rubs off on the kids around him,” Hugill said. “He's very reasonable to talk to, and if there's a problem he'll help to correct it. He's that kind of leader.”
Hugill also had him as a physics student, he said. All A's.
This year Grant decided he wanted to try baseball. He'd never played anything but park leagues, but he practiced all winter to become good enough to make the team. He rides the bench, but doesn't let it bother him.
How could it, when the memory of cardboard houses is so vivid in his past, and a Boettcher scholarship awaits in his future?
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