Senior Earns Full Scholarship to Duke University

Fenwick student Vaughn-Regan Bledsoe ’21, a resident of Maywood, IL, has been named a LINK Unlimited Class of 2021 QuestBridge Match Scholar. Ms. Bledsoe, a Friars’ Cheerleading Team captain and Black Student Union president, will attend Duke University on a full scholarship!

QuestBridge, a national nonprofit based in Palo Alto, CA, connects some of the nation’s most exceptional youth with leading institutions of higher education and further life opportunities. Last year, QuestBridge received more than 18,500 applications. After a two-step application process, Bledsoe was chosen as one of only 1,464 QuestBridge Match Scholarship Recipients (an 8% acceptance rate). As a QuestBridge Scholar, her financial-aid package provided by Duke University covers tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and travel expenses for all four years.

 “I’m incredibly excited for Vaughn and not at all surprised that she was chosen as a QuestBridge Match Scholar,” says Timeica E. Bethel-Macaire, the director of post-secondary success and support at LINK Unlimited Scholars and Bledsoe’s nominator. “She spent countless hours working on her application and researching universities. I’ve been an educator and mentor for the last 10 years, and I’ve met very few students as conscientious and determined as Vaughn!”

Ms. Bethel-Macaire adds that Bledsoe fully embodies the LINK core values: integrity, resilience, accountability, drive, selflessness and intellectual curiosity. “Vaughn is a leader among her peers [who] received the LINK All Around Outstanding Scholar Award last year. She is so intelligent, deserving, reflective and mature beyond her years. I’m thrilled that Vaughn will be able to attend her top choice university on a full-ride scholarship, especially as a first-generation college student.” Duke is one of 42 colleges and universities partnering with QuestBridge. Brown and USC also were on Bledsoe’s short list.

Steve Napolitano, her LINK mentor, adds: “Upon meeting Vaughn for the first time, I was entirely convinced that she would not only excel academically but that she would embrace the full Fenwick experience,” says Mr. Napolitano, who is the past-parent of a Friar (son, Vince ’13) and a coporate partner in the Chicago office of law firm Kirkland & Ellis. “She has exceeded every possible expectation with both her intellect and passionate and infectious personality. She will be an immeasurable asset to Fenwick going forward. My wife, Karen, and I are tremendously proud of her. I hope we were able to contribute in small measure to her success, but most of it rests with Vaughn herself and with her mother, Annette. Vaughn is simply unique!”

Envisioning College

Bledsoe’s mother, Annette Ford, learned about LINK Unlimited Scholars when her daughter was an 8th-grader at Ascension Catholic School in Oak Park. At the time, Ms. Ford was inquiring about scholarships (to Fenwick), and fellow parents encouraged her to investigate the opportunities available through LINK in Chicago. Vaughn had strong grades when she began the initial interview process four years ago and was among the approximately 50 children (of the 200 or so who applied) to receive partial tuition scholarships at private and charter secondary schools in the Chicago area. At Fenwick, she is the recipient of the Pat and Linda O’Brien Scholarship. “What exciting news! Linda and I feel honored to be part of Vaughn’s success, and we are confident her Fenwick education will serve her well at Duke,” says Mr. O’Brien ’59, who is the retired VP of finance at Utilities, Inc.

Once at Fenwick, the then 14-year-old began “preparing for college in my freshman year,” reports Bledsoe, who has taken a challenging course load with honors and advanced-placement (AP) classes. She attended LINK career/college panels and, before COVID-19, its ACT and SAT prep events. The organization’s “Saturday Academy” is two hours packed with seminars and speakers, she explains. Last February, Bledsoe applied for QuestBridge’s program and was accepted in May 2020. Then, the waiting began.

“This scholarship is highly competitive: about 18,000 kids apply nationally,” says Bledsoe, who notes that she was not overly confident about her chances. QuestBridge whittled it down to 6,000, then 1,000 students. Early last December, Vaughn text-chatted with other students whom she had met through the applicant pool. With nervous anticipation, she opened a letter on the QuestBridge online portal informing her that she had won a scholarship. “I literally screamed [from excitement],” recalls the driven 17-year-old.

Her mom was not so surprised. “I knew in my heart that Vaughn would go to a good college,” Ms. Ford shares. “But when I heard her scream like that, at first I thought something was wrong. Then we huddled together in a joyful hug. She has worked so hard and did it all on her own.” Their daughter-mother bond remains tight-knit. “At first, I didn’t like the idea of Vaughn having a mentor,” mom admits. “I was afraid that someone would come into her life and ‘replace’ me.” After opening up her mind, however, she realizes it was the best course of action for her child’s future: “Now, I love LINK.”

Fenwick College Counselor Ms. Igho Oraka ’03 adds: “Vaughn has been a pleasure, and the Fenwick community is a better place with her presence and commitment. Her sense of self and leadership will be missed, but I know she is needed at Duke, and we are excited to see what is next for her!”

Last year, the Class of 2020’s Craig Butler (of Bellwood, IL) won a similar scholarship from the Posse Foundation to the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

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