I am often asked why I'm so obsessed with the brand Coca-Cola.
My response often consists of, “Do you have a few hours?” And I really mean it.
I finally decided I would write a short synopsis of why Coca-Cola has and forever will have a special place in my heart. I hope you all enjoy reading as much as I have enjoyed the journey thus far.
Growing up, I would always beg my parents to let me order a Cherry Coke when we ate out. It was a drink of joy for me. From enjoying one at the University of Arizona football games with my grandpa, to sipping on one at the beach as we lounged.
Coca-Cola had been in my life since the start, but it wasn’t until my senior year of high school when I would discover the true meaning of Coca-Cola. It was a sunny afternoon as I sat outside a coffee shop entering countless scholarship applications to help pay for college. I tried to apply to as many local ones as possible to increase the likelihood in being awarded it because of the smaller applicant pools.
It was then when I came across the Coca-Cola Scholars Program scholarship. I quickly read it over and, when I saw it took only 15 minutes to complete, I decided to crank it out. I then went on to complete many other applications and completely forgot about it. I spent much of my time applying for one scholarship, the Flinn. The Flinn Scholarship is an amazing opportunity, and I spent my entire high school experience tailoring myself to qualify for this dream of an award. I can’t remember ever working so hard for anything else in my life. From the day the application opened, I spent three to five hours daily for months editing, re-editing and creating my masterpiece of an application. After months of pondering and hundreds of hours of work, I submitted it. I finally received the email I'd been refreshing my inbox hourly for so long.
I had been rejected.
I did not even make it past the first round and to say I was devastated was an understatement. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like much, but I was crushed. Two weeks later, I was finishing up my shift at work when I checked my email to find a message from the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. It read: “Congratulations! Out of our over 87,000 applicants this year, you have been selected to move on in our application process with 1,917 others.” I read further when it explained that they would eventually select 150 scholars to be inducted into the 2017 class of Coke Scholars. I could not believe it. I rushed home to tell my parents and start on the next round of steps.
I thought that getting through with only a 15-minute application for such a large scholarship was too good to be true, and it was. For this round, I had to write five essays and answer 20 short questions, and had to document virtually everything I did in high school with incredible detail. I thought, "Oh here we go again... another couple months of editing and re-editing to be told the same thing as before."
But I knew that if I did not do my best, I would be forever remorseful. So, months it was of countless overanalyzing every word I included in my application. I was in a hotel room with my dad sitting next to me when I submitted it. I embraced him as I knew it was now out of my hands and there was nothing else I could do.
Now came the hardest part, the wait.
About a month later, I received an email from the Foundation congratulating me on moving on to the final round of the process with 249 others. I WAS BESIDE MYSELF! I knew even making it this far was a huge feat, and I was so proud of myself and felt as though all of my hard work had paid off. The last round consisted of a 20-minute interview which would be conducted over Skype because Tucson was not a major city and they had no interviewers in my area. I think I could have conducted the interview myself after all of the research I conducted for the most common interview questions to be prepared for anything, or so I thought.
The day was finally here to have my interview. I was literally trembling as I tied my tie and slipped on my suit jacket for the interview. I waited patiently as 4 p.m. approached. At exactly 4:01, my heart was beating out of my chest as the ringtone began to echo over my computer speakers. I immediately answered and was greeted by three of the sweetest people I have ever met. The interview flew by, and by the end, I thought I had blacked out because I could not remember any of it. Again, the agonizing wait was upon me.
A few weeks later, I was at the state capitol with the Tucson Teen Congress speaking with Congressmen and women about increasing the public education budget and proposing viable solutions to them. Between every meeting, I was checking my email because I knew it was the day I found out if I would be a Coke Scholar.
Just as we were about to go observe a session, I refreshed my email. UPDATE: COCA-COLA SCHOLARS FOUNDATION was the headline in the newest email. My hands immediately became drenched in sweat as I clicked on the email.
“Please log in to the portal to view an update on your scholarship.” My heart was beating out of my chest as I fumbled to log in as fast as I could. "Congratulations, you are a 2017 Coke Scholar!" it read across the top. My eyes swelled with tears of joy as I fell to my knees in my suit in front of the security at the state capitol. I am just sure everyone around me thought I was having a heart attack because I was freaking out. It was crazy to think that a foundation as large as this invested in me.
Senior year of high school was the hardest year of my life thus far. I was struggling with my identity and how society perceived me, had been rejected from my dream school, and was struggling with depression. A month after finding out came Scholars Weekend which took place at the Coca-Cola Headquarters in Atlanta. There I met some of the most amazing people I have ever met and went through a Leadership Development Institute led by Stanford professors on how to make a continuous impact through college and beyond. Even more than the monetary scholarship, the community and support the foundation provided me was by far the best gift I could have ever been given. I will never forget being at the Coca-Cola Scholars banquet and the song "Don’t Stop Believing" coming on in the background. As cheesy as it was, I again balled my eyes out in pure joy that after a hard year, I had prevailed with the help of this tremendous support. I honestly cannot put into words how much this experience changed my life. To this day, becoming a Coke Scholar has been the most life-changing time of my life and I will be forever grateful to them for that.
My incredible journey did not stop there. I was introduced to Karen Cox, who helped me apply for the Campus Ambassador Position at the University of Arizona. Throughout the past year, I have worked to promote not only the more than 500 brands Coca-Cola owns, but I also have promoted many amazing initiatives that benefit women, minorities and the environment. I have gotten to work with the amazing Nely Galan as she spoke to students about being self-made and how to navigate the choppy waters of entrepreneurship. I got to work with Swire Coca-Cola and their efforts to support student organizations and my school. I worked with the department of sustainability to help promote new recycling and composting initiatives for large athletic events at the school. I worked on Coca-Cola’s behalf to support our campus pantry to provide food and drinks to students who are at risk or prone to hunger. I worked with the director of the program to reinvent their business tracking system to be able to be more efficient inventory and tracking processes.
Not to mention meeting people like Mary-Beth Carpenter and Anita Petersen, who have completely taken me under their wing and changed my life. Now, I am pursuing an internship with Honest Tea (A Coca-Cola brand) in Denver. As I constantly grow and evolve as a leader on my campus, a student, and as a friend I have had Coca-Cola and the Scholars Foundation supporting me 100 percent of the way.
I quickly realized and am continuing to learn that Coca-Cola is so much more than a drink or a large company. I learned that Coca-Cola really means opportunity, support and hope for the future. So yes, mom, dad, friends and family, when I refuse to drink a competitor’s product or eat at a restaurant that does not serve Coke, I am not doing it to annoy you, but my loyalty lies with Coca-Cola.