This is the first day of the fall semester at Garden City Community College, the 90th fall semester since our institution began serving the people of southwest Kansas.

As president of the college, I'm proud that we're marking this important milestone, and I'm equally proud that so many men and women of different ages and backgrounds have chosen GCCC as the place to start or continue their higher education.

Out of the approximately 2,300 students who will be pursuing those goals this semester on our campus, I'd like to offer special congratulations to two Audrey Marie Rupp of Tribune and Sonya Murillo of Deerfield.

We recently selected each of these incoming freshmen to receive GCCC's most prestigious scholarship, the Ambassador Award.

Significant recognition

Selection as a GCCC Ambassador Scholar provides $2,400 over four semesters, and it's based on academic achievement, school and community service and some other important criteria. However, serving as an Ambassador involves a lot more than simply receiving a scholarship.

Each applicant must be recommended by a counselor or other official from his or her high school, go through a personal interview process on our campus and write a comprehensive application essay.

Once chosen, Ambassador Scholars carry out a number of responsibilities, including:

Serving as a sounding board for our college administration

Hosting campus visitors

Speaking at special events

Assisting with GCCC Endowment Association activities

Meeting periodically in my office to discuss the campus climate, potential improvements, student recruitment, public relations and other subjects

Acting as a student focus group throughout the year.

The Ambassador Scholarship Program is a long-standing GCCC tradition. Each fall, two incoming freshman Ambassadors join a pair of returning sophomore Ambassador Scholars. Audrey and Sonya, for example, will be joining our returning scholars, Daniel E. Rogers, Selden, and Kayelani Irvin of Garden City.

Sonya Murillo

Sonya Murillo is someone who hopes "to be an inspiration to those coming from smaller schools," according to her application essay. She is a 2009 Deerfield High School graduate who completed 20 hours of college credit from GCCC while earning her diploma. Her goals now include entrance to our nursing program, and she ultimately wants to become a specialist in obstetrics.

While in high school, she participated in student council and various leadership committees, including Red Ribbon Week.

In addition, she volunteered as a religion teacher at St. Anthony Church, as a mentor with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties and in a Families Together enrichment weekend.

Audrey Rupp

Audrey Rupp is a 2009 Greeley County High School graduate, and she'll be studying social work, psychology and business on our campus.

In Tribune, she organized the Greeley County Youth Action Council, which conducts social events for young people. In addition, Audrey has been involved in various community service projects, including Red Cross blood drives, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, a character education program and work as a youth recreation coach.

Her activities at Greeley County High School included Students Against Destructive Decisions, an organization she served as president; plus student council, drama, cheerleading, volleyball, track, choir and forensics. She also participated in 4-H, a community wellness conference and a bicycle safety program. In addition, she has worked part-time as an assistant manager at Barrel Springs Hunt Club in the Horace community.

Reason to exist

Our Ambassador Scholars, and each of their classmates, provide the reason for our college to exist, as we work to help each individual become a positive contributor to society and the economy by mastering essential skills, advancing academically, preparing for career success and enriching life through learning.

I would like to use this opportunity to offer congratulations to Audrey and Sonya, to let Daniel and Kayelani know that we're proud to have them on board, too, and to welcome all of the other students who have chosen to start their higher education this fall, during our 90th anniversary at Garden City Community College.

GCCC President Carol Ballantyne can be e-mailed at