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West Ottawa senior awarded $40,000 from Elks National Foundation

Melissa Frick/The Holland Sentinel • May 24, 2018 at 11:00 AM

When Aleah Hahn applied for the Elks Most Valuable Student scholarship, she suspected she would earn some kind of award. But she never imagined she would come out of the scholarship competition with $40,000.

The West Ottawa High School senior was recently ranked in second place at the national level of the Elks National Foundation scholarship competition.

“My family and I are beyond thankful for the scholarship,” Hahn said. “It’ll help pay for my college education and allow me to focus on research and what I want to achieve in the world.”

Selection criteria for the competition included evaluation of leadership, academic achievements, community involvement and financial need of students. This year, 19 students applied from the Holland area, but Hahn was the only Holland student who moved on to the state level.

After undergoing interviews and advancing to the national level, Hahn was invited to attend a Leadership Weekend in Chicago on April 26, where the top 20 finalists were guaranteed at least a $20,000 scholarship for attending.

Although the West Ottawa senior faced a tough decision between attending the conference and going to her school’s Science Olympiad State tournament, she said the weekend “blew her mind.” The weekend included leadership activities for the 20 finalists, service activities with veterans in Chicago, and interviews with a panel of judges to determine the final placement of the scholars.

Among the questions she was asked in her interviews, her favorite question was: If you were featured on the cover of a magazine in the future, which magazine would it be and why?

“I would see myself on the cover of National Geographic, because I want to work with plants to help provide a seed that can go to Third World countries and grow in any climate or conditions to help the world get better and end hunger,” she said.

The Elks National Foundation has a network of nearly 2,000 lodges in communities all over the country, including Lodge No. 1315 in Holland. The Foundation spends more than $80 million annually for benevolent and patriotic community-minded programs in such fields as benefiting special needs children, veterans’ works and patriotic programs, according to its website.

Hahn said the values of the Elks program — family, service and leadership — are ones that resonate with her deeply.

“I was raised with service and always looking for ways to give back,” she said. “Always volunteering at church and working at food pantries. It doesn’t make sense to me when people say service is ‘such a nice thing to do,’ because that’s just who I am and what’s expected of me. You have to give back to the community that has helped build you up.”

West Ottawa High School counselor Marissa Higgs attested to Hahn’s inherent benevolence.

“Aleah is a kind and generous student who gives her time freely,” Higgs said. “Her commitment to serving others is not something she takes lightly or views as self-serving activities for the purpose of ‘padding’ her resume.”

And the 17-year-old’s resume is, indeed, hefty. Hahn is a member of National Honor Society, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Michigan Governor’s Honor Guard and Sea Scouts. She also has been a member, secretary and treasurer for West Ottawa’s Young Republicans Club for four years. This past month, the group registered 81 West Ottawa seniors to vote, the most students the club has ever registered in a single day.

When asked what she enjoys to do in her free time, she said with a chuckle, “Free time? What’s that?”

The West Ottawa senior plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree with a double major in biosystems engineering and German at Michigan State University. She also was recruited by MSU varsity rowing coaches to row in the spring of next year — despite the fact the 17-year-old has never rowed a day in her life. Hahn has accepted a professorial assistantship through MSU’s Honors College, where she will be working under one of her professors to complete 8-10 hours of research a week. While the high school senior said it will require some transitioning, she is looking forward to a busy freshman year of college.

Hahn was recognized for her scholarship at West Ottawa High School’s Senior Honors Convocation on May 22.

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