On November 11, 2014, more than 500 alumni, students, and friends celebrated the undergraduate financial aid community and its scholarship recipients and donors―or as Penn President Amy Gutmann called them, “some of Penn’s most loyal, most generous, and most forward-looking people”―at the 2014 Fall Scholarship Celebration. The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts played venue to the hallmark on-campus celebration championing Penn’s revolutionary promise to deliver affordable education to deserving scholars from around the globe. 

“The best way of showing our commitment, our passion, our dedication to making our country and the world the best it can be is precisely what you, our scholarship donors, are doing: supporting these amazing students who will go out and lead, making the maximum positive impact on our world,” said President Gutmann.

Penn President Amy Gutmann, George A. Weiss, W’65, HON’14, and Weiss ScholarsPenn President Amy Gutmann, George A. Weiss, W’65, HON’14, and Weiss Scholars

President Gutmann also shared the success toward an ambitious initiative she unveiled in 2014―to raise an additional $240 million for undergraduate financial aid. Five generous $1 million donors have already taken the President’s Men and Women of Pennsylvania Challenge and, together with the University match, have made $10 million available to match the gifts of others. 
These challenge funds promote more opportunities for individuals to expand the impact of their personal gifts and leverage their ability to help provide a Penn education for qualified students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

The Scholarship Celebration is truly a celebration of the difference access to education makes in the lives of individuals and, by extension, the world. At Penn, accessible education is more than a priority―it’s an imperative. 

Scholarship recipients Claudia Jean, W’15, and Sean Sheffer, Nu’15, W’15, detailed their stories of a Penn education and the importance of financial aid on their personal experiences.  

Claudia Jean, W’15

“My father left the politically charged island nation of Haiti and risked his life to come to the United States early in the 1990s,” said Claudia Jean, W’15. Driven by the mission to create better opportunities for his family and children, Claudia’s father succeeded in emigrating Claudia and her five siblings into the U.S. in 1999. Living in a low-income immigrant community in Florida, Claudia’s father served as both father and mother; he worked three jobs, uncertain if he would be able to pay the rent or buy groceries. 

“Having been an educator in his home country, my father was an avid believer in the steadfast pursuit of education” said Claudia, “so I too learned to cherish education and believed it would be my key to unlocking a better future.”

Claudia’s hard work resulted in a referral to Quest Bridge, a program that provides support to promising low-income students during high school and that matches those students to colleges with no-loan financial aid packages.

“My acceptance to Penn, to the Wharton School, was truly a day of celebration for myself, for my family, and for my immigrant community,” said Claudia. “With depressing high school dropout rates and daily gang violence that went on in our neighborhood, it gave them a ray of hope that they could see their children follow a similar path.”

A Joseph Aresty and Hayward P. Pearce Scholar at Penn, Claudia has enjoyed an undergraduate experience that has been challenging, but rewarding. She will graduate in the spring with a degree in economics, and in her time at Penn, has embraced opportunities to study abroad in Ghana, to serve in her local community, and to explore her faith through campus ministry. 

“With the opportunities I have received at Penn, I have gained the confidence to pursue new paths for myself,” said Claudia, who intends to explore a future in international law after a possible commitment to service through the Peace Corps or Teach for America.

“Receiving scholarship aid has meant everything to me and my family,” Claudia reflected. “If you were to ask my father what is his greatest investment in his lifetime, he would tell you it is his children."

To see Claudia tell her full story, watch the video.

Sean Sheffer, Nu’15, W’15

As a 12-year-old living in Las Vegas, Sean Sheffer, Nu’15, W’15, spent his time working in a physically demanding family business; his life was defined by hard work in searing heat, helping his family to make ends meet. “High school for me was an afterthought,” says Sean, “a chance for me to escape work.”

Inspired by his participation in the community service club Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA), Sean dreamed of a better life, but was deterred by the costs of a college education“numbers that were megabucks jackpots, but there was no cash-out for me,” said Sean. “And then I remembered my city’s mantra: ‘What happens here, stays here.’ I would never leave.”

However, through Quest Bridge, a program that matches bright, low-income students with colleges with no-loan financial aid, Sean discovered Penn. “I closed my eyes, applied early decision, was accepted, and never looked back,” said Sean.

A Dr. and Mrs. Stephen A. Wynn Challenge Fund Scholar, Sean will graduate this spring with dual degrees from both Nursing and Wharton, as well a computer science minor from the School of Engineering. His passion for technology inspired his involvement with the Weiss Tech House, and he is the founder of RightHere, a videoconferencing start-up. Also one of only 1,000 Gates Millennium Scholars, Sean will work for Microsoft after graduation.

“For students like me, when the odds were stacked against us, it was you, our scholarship donors, who still decided to place that bet,” said Sean. “For that, I am forever grateful.”

To see Sean tell his full story, watch the video.