Grand Valley High Daniels winner — ‘Bo Jackson of high school’ | PostIndependent.com

Grand Valley High Daniels winner — ‘Bo Jackson of high school’

Jon Smith

Editor's note: This is the second of two stories on area students who were among 226 high school seniors from Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming selected to receive the prestigious Daniels Scholarship. On Sunday, we featured Roaring Fork High School's Joselinne Madrano. The scholarship covers all college expenses that remain after other scholarships and financial aid are applied, and can be used to attend any accredited nonprofit college or university in the United States.

PARACHUTE — It was Thursday during spring break when Jon Smith, a senior at Grand Valley High School, learned he was among the 146 Colorado students receiving the 2016 Daniels Scholarship.

For Smith, the timing during break was convenient. The young man keeps busy.

Aside from being a strong student academically — he has been on the honor roll during his entire time at Grand Valley High — Smith played football and was on both the wrestling and cross country teams at the high school. He is on the math club, knowledge bowl and is in the National Honors Society. And if all of that were not enough, he is president of the Garfield County 4-H Council and, among other achievements, he has been instrumental in forming the local 4-H robotics program.

"He's like the Bo Jackson of high school," Ryan Frink, principal at Grand Valley, said in referencing the famous dual-sport athlete who played in both the NFL and MLB. "He took full advantage of everything we have to offer, that's for sure."

In recalling the day he learned the good news, Smith said he was quite nervous. The Daniels Fund had sent out an email two weeks earlier alerting finalists that letters had been mailed out. He was the only person at home when he discovered the large envelope in the mail.

"I was actually really worried to open it because I was the only person home, so I didn't know if I should open it or wait for someone else … and then I just decided to open it," Smith said.

Then came the phone calls.

"I was really excited," Smith said. "I started calling everyone."

One of the first calls went to Carla Farrand, director of 4-H youth development at the Garfield County CSU Extension Office.

"I wasn't surprised," said Farrand, who has known Smith for about five years and has worked closely with him for the past three years. "I knew he had a really good chance of getting it, and we worked hard to make sure he would get it."

That's not to devalue the accomplishment, though, Farrand added.

More than 2,200 students in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming applied for the 2016 Daniels Scholarship Program. A total of 216 students in those three states were awarded the scholarship, which pays for an education — after other scholarships and financial aid are applied — at any accredited nonprofit college or university in the U.S.

Although he couldn't remember the exact year, Frink said the last time the school of roughly 300 students had a Daniels winner was in 2007 or 2008.

To have a winner — Frink stated the school also had another finalist this year as well — speaks to the type of person Smith is.

"That scholarship speaks for itself and what that represents and what the kids that get selected represent," Frink said. "I really think that is the full package as far as looking at academics, looking at community service. They're looking at all aspects."

Smith said he intends on studying mechanical engineering at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. In addition to his studies, Smith said he also plans on enrolling in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at CSU.

Military service, he said, aligns with his interests and career ambitions. Prior to high school, Smith said he wanted to be a pilot, but his passion for math and sciences grew stronger and led him to his current career choice.

While the ROTC program does have scholarship opportunities, those are far from a guarantee, Smith said. Like many students across the country, he is pursuing other forms of financial aid and scholarship opportunities, but without the Daniels Scholarship, Smith said he would likely end up borrowing money and eventually graduate with a large amount of debt.

In expressing his gratitude for that fact, Smith also thanked some of the staff at Grand Valley High along with people like Farrand who have helped him along the way.

Grand Valley goes to great lengths to make sure students really develop a road map for life after high school, whether that be continued education or a career, Frink said. Students spend 30 minutes each day meeting with an adviser.

"They're really involved with all the students to make sure that everyone gets the opportunity that they can get," Smith said.

The Daniels Fund was established by cable television pioneer Bill Daniels as a private charitable foundation to help better the lives of people in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming through grants, scholarships and other programs.

Since 2000, the Daniels Scholarship has been awarded to nearly 3,500 graduating seniors in the four-state region, with scholarships totaling more than $138 million. Currently, about 1,000 Daniels Scholars are attending school at some 200 different colleges and universities throughout the United States.