Coal Ridge High School Boettcher winner Paola Ortiz wants to give back |

Coal Ridge High School Boettcher winner Paola Ortiz wants to give back

Theresa Hamilton
Special to the Citizen Telegram
Paola Ortiz

Coal Ridge High School senior Paola Ortiz loves to read, loves to hike, and loves music, but her true passion is her family.

“I would not be able to do everything I have been able to accomplish without my family,” she explained.

Her love for family and her deep desire to give back to a world has earned her a life changing scholarship opportunity. Paola Ortiz is Coal Ridge High School’s second Boettcher Scholar in three years.

“I really can’t believe it. I got a text message from my sister during Spanish class just saying, ‘PAOLA’. I had no idea what that meant. She sent back, ‘It’s here.’ and sent me a photo of the envelope. I immediately started shaking.”

Ortiz raced home between school and her musical performance that evening.

“It’s terrifying opening that letter. It’s all or nothing at that point,” she laughed. “My sister and my niece were there, and I opened the letter and then I jumped up and down and I cried, and my sister and I hugged, and we cried, and my niece had no idea what was going on.”

Ortiz lost her mother to cancer earlier this year, and says that loss helped shape her desired path of study in more ways than one. She is now leaning toward attending Colorado University-Boulder to study medicine.

“I like the idea of being able to help people. It was so hard to see my mom go through that and not be able to do anything,” she explained. “All of the doctors, the nurses, everyone we interacted with, they were really great. They were so helpful and so kind. Even though the situation was awful, they made it so much better. I want to be able to do that for someone else.”

In addition to her advanced course load, Ortiz was also named to the All-State choir earlier this year.

Ortiz, along with the over 1,000 applicants, wrote one main essay and three smaller ones to apply for the prestigious scholarship. From there, Boettcher administrators reviewed three letters of recommendation highlighting her leadership, community service and academic accomplishments.

Once she made the final round, she participated in a 15-minute interview with a nine-person panel in Denver.

“The interview was on the 22nd floor. That was the longest elevator ride of my life,” she laughed.

She is happy to have just gone through the process.

“It opens a lot of doors for you just to be a semi-finalist. You get the inside view into leadership programs that you may not have been exposed to otherwise,” she explained.

She credits the teachers and staff at Coal Ridge for creating an environment to help students like herself thrive.

“Coal Ridge is pretty small, but there is so much support here. The teachers, students — everyone, including the custodial staff — they are invested and want to see the students succeed,” Ortiz said. “I am so grateful for all of them. They support us unconditionally and they just want to see us become the best people we can be.”

Ortiz is the second Boettcher Scholar to emerge from Coal Ridge High School. Jacob Morgan was named CRHS’s first Boettcher in 2017.

Established in 1952, the Boettcher Scholarship program awards 42 scholarships each year and has established a network of more than 2,400 Boettcher Scholars. This places the program among the largest merit-based scholarship programs in the nation.

Theresa Hamilton is communications director for the Garfield School District Re-2, which includes public schools in Rifle, Silt and New Castle.

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