Written by Sophie X. Song
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
On July 17, 2021, a fine sunny day, a scholarship awarding ceremony took place in Chicago, under two rows of blue tents emblazoned with the Tzu Chi logo, which Tzu Chi volunteers had erected beforehand. Last year’s Tzu Chi USA Scholars award ceremony had to be held virtually due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet this time around, the organizers could stage an actual in-person event since it became somewhat less risky to do so.
Still, to be on the safe side, Tzu Chi opted for an outdoor setting, and most volunteers and award-receiving students were vaccinated. The volunteers had also neatly arranged the scholarships, award certificates, and Tzu Chi “bonding gift” bags on tables, so they were ready to be handed out. Finally, all the guests wore face masks during the ceremony, abiding by the tight measures to help prevent infection while attending a public celebration.
The award recipients and their families arrived early that morning and signed in by twos and threes. Volunteers then helped each student pin a flower brooch on their chest as a proud symbol of their status. Huishan Qiu, a young Tzu Chi certified volunteer and a member of the scholarship appraisal team, assumed the MC role in welcoming all visitors and volunteers as they were seated.
The ceremony’s climax came when award-winning students walked onto the stage, with the audience breaking into a chorus of applause. And, upon receiving their scholarships and gifts, each student made a short speech in thanks, expressing what this award means to them. Among the students, perhaps Yurou Chen summarized it best, stating that the award is much more than just a sum of money for it also signifies care and encouragement.
Scholarships aside, each student also received a bag of Tzu Chi bonding gifts that volunteers had carefully prepared. Huishan Qiu showed the guests the bags’ contents, namely a bamboo bank, a book of Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s Jing Si Aphorisms, a box of face masks, and more.
Concerning the bamboo bank, she specifically explained, “I believe everyone knows that our scholarships all come from the kindness of people worldwide. This bamboo bank isn’t a roundabout way of asking to return the favor. Instead, we hope each person will show kindness every day, make a benevolent wish, and bless their family and all the people of the world.”
The pandemic’s impact slowed a bit in the U.S. this summer, which permitted the staging of this in-person ceremony. Yet, the celebration’s smooth process was primarily attributable to the concerted effort of Tzu Chi volunteers. The pandemic outbreak forced a stop to many group activities in society. The same was also true for Tzu Chi’s many charity programs, such as the free clinic service that was interrupted for a time.
However, Tzu Chi volunteers never stopped keeping those in need close to heart, especially being fully aware that during the pandemic, many people had lost their jobs, some even their homes, and therefore desperately needed assistance. Thus, as soon as it was possible to proceed with public safety in mind, Tzu Chi volunteers resumed meaningful activities like food distributions and other forms of aid. Hosting this scholarship award ceremony to encourage students in their education was part of this resumption of activities.
And this was what impressed Riches Tiv, one of the scholarship recipients. “It is with great appreciation that I think of what Tzu Chi has done to fully avail itself of a variety of methods in helping those in need during the period of societal stress. Whereas a lot of groups just totally stopped operating for various reasons, Tzu Chi went in the opposite direction to help more organizations and communities,” he said.
During the ceremony, Tzu Chi volunteers actually talked to the award winners about Tzu Chi USA’s charity projects to let them know that the meaning of these scholarships goes well beyond mere financial support for students in need, as they also aim to inspire social service.
After studying at home for over a year due to pandemic lockdowns, these good students could return to school in the fall. We believe they will make the most of their Tzu Chi USA Scholars awards which combine benevolence and expectations of contribution to society, concepts they will pass on to others in the spirit of Tzu Chi during the years they continue to mature academically.
Through your love and support, you can help Tzu Chi USA recognize and provide financial assistance to outstanding college-bound high school graduates and continuing undergraduate students who were prior recipients in some cases. Tzu Chi USA Scholars are selected on the basis of their financial need, academic achievement, and community involvement.