“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.  Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman


These are fitting words for this year’s Soroptimist International of Benicia scholarship award recipients. All six recipients, two from Liberty High School, and four from Benicia High School, have exemplified strength, patience, and passion. Admirable qualities, admirable young women and men.

The Soroptimists of Benicia established a scholarship program at Benicia High School shortly after the club was founded in the city in 1979. Several years later a program was also established at Liberty High School. Originally two scholarships were given, one to a student at each high school. Over the years the club has been able to not only increase the number of scholarships awarded, but also increase the scholarship amounts. This has been made possible because of successful fundraising by the collaborative efforts of the membership. 

At Liberty High School, the scholarships are awarded in the names of Leeann and Bill Cawley. Longtime business owners in the City of Benicia, they have devoted countless hours to the good of our community. A founding member of Soroptimist, Leeann remains a contributing member of the club. This year, the two scholarship recipients are Brian Casillas and Elliot Foy.

Brian has maintained an excellent GPA and perfect attendance at school, despite facing obstacles along the way. He developed an ability to stay on track, remaining motivated to become successful in his pursuits. Brian participated in an internship with Sustainable Solano, an organization that serves to promote ecologically sustainable, economically and socially just communities, in a world that works for everyone. He is interested in engineering.

Elliott Foy describes himself as creative and hardworking, and it is evident in his multiple year commitment to every available band program, including symphonic, jazz, and marching band. He also volunteered for many years with Lucky Ones Ranch, a non-profit animal rescue sanctuary. After moving past a difficult time in his life, he is focused on his future, looking toward joining the Job Corps. With a lifelong interest in the medical field, he would like to become a Certified Nursing Assistant and complete EMT training, entering the field of paramedicine and emergency medical services. 

The scholarships at Benicia High School are awarded in the name of Mary McKay. Mary was also a founding member of the club, and remained active in Soroptimist until she passed away. It is vital to note that she was the first female to be elected to the Benicia City Council. Scholarships at Benicia High have been awarded to Sarah Hoyle, Tristan Keene, Grace Kioko Gabel, and Hannah Saitz.

Sarah Hoyle will be attending UC Berkeley in the Fall, majoring in Chemistry. Her ultimate goal after graduating with her BS is to obtain her Master’s degree, and eventually enter the work world in the area of chemical environmental research. A three year member of the S Club, the Soroptimist sister club for high school students, Sarah engages in an impressive array of activities, including service on Congressman Mike Thompson’s Student Leadership Council.  She maintained an outstanding GPA through her high school years. 

Tristan Keene is a past recipient of Soroptimist International’s Violet Richardson Award, given to a young woman who contributes significantly to her community through volunteer efforts. Tristan has been on the honor roll, served as the captain of the award winning debate team, and was the youth ambassador to Benicia’s Sister City in Tula, Mexico. She will be attending a community college in the Fall, and hopes to become an immigration lawyer one day in the Bay Area.

UC Davis is lucky to get Grace Gabel in the Fall, where she will pursue a pre-veterinary course of study, with the goal of becoming an avian veterinarian. She maintained an exceptional GPA while involved in a wide range of activities, most notably, an internship at the Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital. Her passion and devotion to her duties, and her willingness to take on independent learning landed her an invitation to become an assistant wildlife technician at the hospital.

Hannah Saitz will be attending Michigan State in the Fall, with an interest in the world of advertising. Her hard work and perseverance through challenging times has been extraordinary. She has a truly remarkable story of her journey to success, and as all of our award recipients, exemplifies those qualities of strength, patience, and passion. 

Congratulations to the class of 2020 Soroptimist International of Benicia scholarship recipients. May your educational journey provide you with the opportunities to reach your full potential and live your dream.