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Elon student recalls winning a college grant as a first-grader

Twelve years before MacKenzie Walsh ’20, a first-year strategic communications major, set foot on campus, she entered and won a children’s drawing contest to support her aspirations to one day attend college.

MacKenzie Walsh ’20, a strategic communications major, poses with an oversized check recognizing her $5,000 college grant from the Rhode Island Treasury Office. She was awarded the grant for winning a children’s drawing contest 12 years ago. Photo courtesy of Walsh

​For the last dozen years an oversized check – like the ones used after big lottery drawings or charity drives – has been stuffed in a closet or hidden in the basement of MacKenzie Walsh’s home in Exeter, Rhode Island.

It’s a five-foot-wide memento of Walsh winning a $5,000 grant from her home state’s CollegeBound program. In 2004, the then first-grader entered and won a contest asking students to draw a picture about saving for college.

“I remember seeing the contest and asking my parents how much money I could win,” the first-year Elon University student recalled. “Obviously, I was little, and I said something like, “Wow, that’s a lot of money.”

Beneath a crayon-written headline that reads, “College costs lots of dollars,” Walsh’s winning picture depicts a little girl in a blue dotted dress surrounded by dollar bills.

Walsh’s drawing has received press in recent days because the Rhode Island Treasury Office circulated a late-September release with her story and her decision to attend Elon. Photos of Walsh holding the check, both in 2004 and this summer, accompanied the release. The recent photo actually came at the behest of Walsh’s mom, Sharon, who wanted the image for Facebook. Her mom later shared it with the Treasury Office, which eventually led to the release.

Walsh, then a first-grader, smiles with the check following her contest win in 2004. Photo courtesy of the Rhode Island Treasury Office

​“I had no idea we even had the check,” Walsh laughed. “Who knows where it was, maybe the basement?”

Four weeks into her first semester, the strategic communications major has settled comfortably into campus despite being 10-plus hours from Exeter. A few years ago, Walsh said she realized she wanted to attend college in the South – both for the adventure and to escape the New England winters.

​“I looked at a lot of North Carolina schools and a few in Virginia,” she said. “But when I came to Elon and toured here, I knew this was the one.”

It isn’t surprisingly that Walsh, the one-time contest winner, said she gravitated to strategic communications because of its creativity. In fact, she still draws regularly. Moments before she recounted her 2004 contest entry, she attended Assistant Professor Stacy Waddell’s “Drawing I” class.

Tommy Kopetskie,
9/30/2016 7:40 PM