Smiling broadly from the news feed on his Facebook page, Justin Botejue—a junior at the PC(USA)-related Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington—proudly stands beside such top political leaders as Attorney General Eric Holder and Washington state Governor Jay Inslee.
“We met on Election Day!” he posted of his encounter with Holder. “I was sent a signed copy of this [photo] from his office as well.”
Reflecting on how such once-in-a-lifetime opportunities even became possible—Botejue was rewarded last fall for his hard work at Whitworth with a position as a legal intern in the U.S. Department of Justice—he humbly acknowledged that he had come a long way.
“My parents emigrated from Sri Lanka to the United States about 25 years ago,” Botejue said. “Since neither has a college degree, they worked modest retail jobs while raising my sister and me.”
Growing up in West Anaheim, California, in a household with limited financial resources—and in a community with disproportionately low college enrollment rates—Botejue said “the odds seemed stacked against me.”
“Through the encouragement of my parents, church family, and teachers, I knew I wanted to go to college and be the first person in my family to obtain a degree,” he said. “The problem was paying for it.”
When Botejue learned about—and was subsequently awarded—a Student Opportunity Scholarship through the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s office of Financial Aid for Service, he was overwhelmed with gratitude.
The Student Opportunity Scholarship serves PC(USA) college students by providing need-based aid for sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are full-time, first-degree students attending accredited institutions in the U.S.
“Justin’s faith is foundational, being born into the First Presbyterian Church of Garden Grove that raised, nurtured, and sent him off to college,” said the Rev. Cheryl Raine, Botejue’s pastor. “Love was generously poured into Justin, and in turn he blessed his church family through his service and sharing. During his junior high and high school years, he helped serve the seniors in the congregation at church and in their homes. He was also always ready and willing to assist with worship leadership. Justin tenaciously looks every challenge in the eye and makes it an opportunity for growth and development.”
In addition to the requirement that applicants be members of a PC(USA) congregation, preference in the Student Opportunity Scholarship program is given to racial ethnic students in order to promote diversity.
“The financial aid I receive from the PC(USA) is a tremendous blessing that I am eternally grateful for because it opens many doors that would otherwise be closed to me,” said Botejue. “Having a Christian education is such a formative experience in my life that I cannot imagine going to college anywhere else.”
Neither can one of his teachers, Dr. Kathryn Lee, professor and chair of political science at Whitworth.
“Justin is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of and contributors to the Whitworth University community,” Lee said. “Among his many contributions, he has served as a student government senator, an alumni relations ambassador, and an admissions office panelist. He is serious about trying to look at issues through the lens of his Christian faith and always sets high standards for himself, whether he is in the classroom or working at Whitworth Presbyterian church.”
Following his anticipated graduation in May 2016, Botejue hopes to attend law school and use his degree to promote peace and justice in the world.
“I know I want to be involved with the work of the church and the community,” he said. “Receiving financial aid from the PC(USA) endears me to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity.”
Applications for the Student Opportunity Scholarship are due May 15 for the 2015–2016 academic year. Visit the websiteto download an application.