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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest High senior addresses tough issues, awarded college scholarship

May 08, 2023 10:57AM ● By Julie Slama

A college education at University of Hawaii is possible for this Hillcrest High senior, thanks to a $100,000 scholarship he was awarded.

“It was a miracle.”

That’s the reaction from Hillcrest High student body student relations officer Ben Barinotto when he found out he was awarded the $100,000 college Daniels Scholarship. He plans to use the funds to attend the University of Hawaii-Monoa and plans to take classes in the fields of business and STEM.

“I had applied because I was in my room doing nothing back in September. It was a big scholarship, so it feels like you have no chance of winning, but I went ahead and submitted my application,” he said.

When he learned he was a semifinalist one month later, he remembered thinking, “that’s crazy.” He wrote and submitted essays about where he saw himself in five years, what he would change in America, and a time when he stayed true to his values in life.

“I was feeling wonky because the due date was the same day I had my wisdom teeth removed, but I got it in. I was so surprised that after submitting that I was selected as a finalist. I began thinking, ‘I’m actually in the running,’” he said. “When I was asked for an interview, I was super nervous; I knew this could make or break where I could go to college. Friends asked me sample questions so that I could answer in the best way. After that interview, I didn’t hear a thing for weeks; it was March 21 when I got an email to check my student portal. My hands were shaking so much I could barely log in. I thought I would have to click something else, but no, it was bam, a big congratulations. I fell back in my chair and started shaking. I was so relieved and just hyped that I was given this scholarship. It’s such a big deal.”

The Daniels Scholarship was awarded to 238 scholars in the intermountain region of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. More than 3,000 high school seniors applied. Recipients were selected based on their strength of character, leadership potential, commitment to serving the community and academic potential. 

Barinotto said the scholarship application included listing activities he is involved in—student government, Latinos in Action, his school’s Health Occupations Student Association chapter— and short response essays.

In his first essay, Barinotto said in his near future, he pictures himself in a dorm and study hall, on a college campus.

“I know my future is in higher education and I plan to execute that dream,” he wrote, adding that he “will be living my best life as an engineer in New York or Los Angeles in 10 years.”

He added that his end goal is only his hope.

“Hope that I cannot rely on yet until I know I have reached my first goal of getting that engineering degree and finding a residency I find myself happy to live in,” Barinotto wrote. “Happiness being an important aspect of my goal. If I am not happy, I have not reached my goal. I have lived in times where I may not find myself exactly where I wanted to be, but I was happy, and times where I thought I did everything right and done, yet still felt lost and underwhelmed. So, between those 2 choices, I would want to be happy. That is what I see when I think of my future self. These plans of actions and accomplishments will fulfill my dreams. Those dreams will fulfill my happiness.”

His second essay about what to change in America was written shortly after a school shooting in St. Louis.

“I would change our safety if there was a way I could, just so we would be safe at any time, at any place,” Barinotto said. “After every shooting, I’ve been worried. I’ve always thought what were to happen if there was a shooting at Hillcrest. It’s all I could think about then.”

In his essay, he wrote, “I would like to go about my day without any thought of being in danger. Whether it’s walking alone at night or even just being at school…there have been many mass/school shootings in recent times…if I could just flip a switch.”

He continued, “That is something I wish I didn’t have to worry about. If I knew that my safety was in no danger, I would be happier.”

His final essay was about his values and beliefs.

“The first thing I think of is faith, which just ties back to church for me, especially since I grew up in the church. I was always scared growing up in church because of what they were teaching, and the way they taught it. I felt it wasn’t the way that God wanted to love me for me,” Barinotto said.

He grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and said debating whether to stay or leave the church hasn’t been an easy decision. He questioned who he was, including his sexuality, and the world he grew up in.

“How could I believe in a church that believes in a God that won’t love me the way he created me?” he wrote. “I believe that there is a God that loves me for me. Not one that wants me to fit in what the rest of the world is telling me to fit in.”

When Barinotto learned about the scholarship, he called his mother.

“My mom was at work, and she started crying,” he said. “My older sisters were super happy for me. They were telling me, ‘You’re all grown up, going to college now. We’re so proud of you.’”

Barinotto will graduate from Hillcrest on May 25, and one month later, he will attend a Daniels Scholarship orientation and celebration in Denver. During his years in higher education, he will update his Daniels adviser, who will check on his progress toward college graduation.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Barinotto said. “I’m still flying high.” λ