A Saanich high school student has been awarded a prestigious full-ride scholarship to an American university.
Mark Finamore, a Grade 12 student at St. Michaels University School (SMUS), is still processing that he’s one of 70 scholars who will receive the Morehead-Cain award – a fully-funded undergraduate scholarship to the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill.
Finamore found out he’d won the hefty award via email in early March.
“I was so excited,” he said, noting that he didn’t believe it at first and had to have someone else read the email. After confirming he wasn’t dreaming, Finamore called his parents – hoteliers who live in Macau – then ran to tell his academic advisor, Ruth McGhee.
McGhee, who wrote Finamore’s recommendation letter, was ecstatic. SMUS has had two other Morehead-Cain scholarship winners in the last five years and “we’re pinching ourselves” over a third, she said.
“It’s a significant award,” McGhee said, adding that each year 70 students receive the award that covers tuition, living expenses, books, summer experiences, a gap year and more.
Before the winners are chosen, 140 finalists are invited to North Carolina for a “shortlist weekend” in February, Finamore said. The free trip gave him a chance to visit the campus and meet the other “inspiring” candidates.
Finamore is a “very hardworking student,” McGhee said. She added that the Morehead-Cain selection committee looks for students who excel in academics, leadership, character and physical activity.
Finamore “is not just a high achieving kid but a great kid all around,” she said. Aside from achieving high marks, he played soccer, rugby and volleyball, volunteered and took part in the school’s musicals.
“He’s electric on stage,” McGhee said, noting that he performed the lead in the annual musical three times. “He could be on Broadway.”
Finamore is also a strong leader, she added. In 2018, through the school’s Me to We club, he started a morning drive-thru for parents dropping off their kids and raised $1,100 for the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. Finamore’s project won him the $2,500 Coast Capital’s Power of Youth award, which he promptly put back into the project to double efforts in 2019.
“Leaders are people who see things that need to get done and go do it – that’s Mark,” McGhee said.
She added that he’s “humble and gracious” and never waves his resume around which she feels drew the selection committee to him.
Finamore plans to study international business with a minor in musical theatre at UNC but first, he’ll take his funded gap year to work and travel.
He and the other Morehead-Cain scholars will also take part in four required summer enrichment programs. The first summer includes a two-month outward-bound program, then a civic collaboration internship in one of 200 cities in North America, then a “global perspectives” summer where students conduct independent research anywhere in the world and finally a professional experience summer with an internship anywhere in the world, Finamore explained.
“I just can’t believe I have so many experiences ahead of me,” he said. “It’s really humbling to know they invest so much money in people they see potential in.”
Finamore’s advice to other students is simple: “be authentic; don’t be afraid, don’t think you’re not good enough.” He recommends that students do things they enjoy instead of trying to pad their resumes.