— Even though General Motors CEO Dan Akerson hadn't been back to Mankato since graduating in 1966, his days at Mankato High School meant a lot to him.
And as a gesture of good will (a pretty big gesture), Akerson paid part of his life's good fortune forward to two West High School students with $40,000 scholarships.
Announced Thursday at an awards assembly, Sam Olson and Samantha Fitzpatrick will receive $10,000 scholarships per year for four years toward their college education. Akerson and his wife, Karin, were special guests at the event.
West Principal Brian Gersich said the Akerson Family Scholarships were meant to help two students dream big and break down the financial barriers in the way of getting there.
“It really had to do with making college accessible,” Gersich said.
One female and one male were to be selected out of a pool of about 30 students who applied, and a committee of administrators, counselors and teachers decided who would be the recipients. The students had to submit their plans for after high school and write a two-page personal statement about what the scholarship would mean to them.
Akerson — who last week spoke at Notre Dame's graduation, has lunched with Nelson Mandela and taken communion from the pope — gave a short speech with humility, integrity and drive as the lessons of the day.
At age 17 when he graduated, Akerson had the same fears and anxieties that they do, he told the students. And in the midst of the Vietnam War, he said the world was just as scary a place as it is now.
“Don't be discouraged with what you see in the world today,” he said. “Your future is unlimited. This country has unlimited boundaries if you're willing to work hard and play by the rules.”