100 Warriors: Peter Za

Winner of Sallie Mae’s Bridging the Dream Scholarship


Senior, Peter Za. Lily Beeson-Norwitz photo

By Lily Beeson-Norwitz, Reporter

For Peter Za, senior, Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 14, seemed ordinary at first, hitting the books after school with his homework club. But when he received unexpected notice that he won the Bridging the Dream Scholarship from Sallie Mae for $25,000, his afternoon went from ordinary to astounding.

Za worked closely with his college and career mentor, Jennifer Rockwell, for a chance to win the scholarship. “As I’ve worked with Peter, I see a young man who is committed to getting an education, and I cannot think of a student more deserving of this scholarship,” said Rockwood. “In the eight years I’ve spent at the College and Career Center, I have never worked with a student who was as motivated, hard-working, and passionate about caring for his family and community.”

He is also participant of a variety of activities at Cleveland: IB; varsity soccer and Future Business Leaders of America, both since freshman year; Key Club; AVID; Cleveland’s Crossfit Program; and National Honor Society. Meanwhile he maintains a 4.0 GPA.

He was one of the five people who were granted the award from Sallie Mae. Sallie Mae’s Bridging the Dream Scholarship awards high-achieving students across the nation who engage in meaningful community service, earn high academic marks, participate in sports, or school activities, but do not have enough money to fulfill their college dream. According to BusinessWire, This is Sallie Mae’s second year of handing out this scholarship. The company has fundraised over $57,000 to support scholarship winners alike to Za.

“I am so incredibly grateful to Jenny for nominating me for this scholarship and to Sallie Mae for providing me the chance to continue my education,” said Za. “College is possible now, and I look forward to the new opportunities it will bring.”

Originally he was surprised to win the scholarship, thinking his possibilities were slim. He had also applied to win the Beat The Odds scholarship for $10,000. Finaling as one of out of 13 students, but not winning the award. This is why Sallie Mae’s recognition shocked him. He said, “The Sallie Mae scholarship surprised me. I think out of some hundred applicants they chose mine, and I’m really happy to be one of them.”

One of the requirements Za had to fulfill to receive the award was to write out a personal learning statement, detailing what has been a part of his life. His academic life has not only shaped him to be an accomplished scholar, but his early years spent in a Thai refugee camp tremendously changed who he is as a person.

Both his parents were entrapped in the Myanmar Civil War, the longest on-going civil war to date. People of Karen nationality are the target of this civil war, fighting for independence. Za’s parents, who were of Karen decent, feared being executed by the Myanmar government, and fled to Thailand along with many other Karen people in fear of the same thing.

His parents sought safety in a Thai refugee camp where Za was later born. He spent the majority of his childhood in the camp, then migrated to the United States. After settling in the U.S., his dad passed away.

Za characterized himself as “third-culture kid,” since moving to the U.S. He said, “Even though I was living in a Thai[land], [my family] still spoke Karen, which is my nationality, and I got into the Thai culture. All the experiences that I’ve had has got me here. Since I’m here now, [I have] a third culture, I can see different views… from different cultures and different perspectives.”

His experiences will continue to carry him through college and the future. The Sallie Mae scholarship has rightfully recognized all Za’s diligent work and dedication to his community within Cleveland and beyond.