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Florida Opportunity Scholarship changes graduate’s life

Published: April 29th, 2010

Category: Spotlights

Michou Phenelus

Michou Phenelus

Bachelor of Science, Anthropology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Michou Phenelus never thought he’d make it to college.

The application process was difficult for Phenelus, a native of Haiti, because when it came time to fill in his parental information on the application he couldn’t. His father died when he was 2 and his mother was in prison. He had no parents to claim him and no money. He only had the hope that somehow he’d make it to college.

With the help of the four-year-old Florida Opportunity Scholars Program, Phenelus will be among the first class of participants to graduate this spring.

The program is available to any University of Florida student whose family earns $40,000 or less and who are the first in their family to attend college. It’s not just a scholarship but pays room and board, creating a way to enroll students from the poorest and least educated families.

Phenelus lived in Miami as a child with his mother and two older siblings in a one-bedroom apartment. “It was a very humble beginning,” Phenelus said. He said he struggled with the English language and it was difficult to understand the curriculum. But once he was able to grasp the language, he said he started to win awards and enrolled in honors classes.

When Phenelus was 16, his mother was imprisoned. He moved to Orlando to live with his aunt, but it didn’t work out. He said he moved in with an acquaintance and attended Maynard Evans High School. He worked overtime at a job while enrolling in honors and advanced placement courses.

He said if it wasn’t for his guidance counselor, Stephanie Harrell, he doesn’t know where he’d be today. She encouraged Phenelus to declare independence, apply for scholarships and become a U.S. citizen.

He was accepted to the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program where he has thrived.

He is a member of Club Creole, UF Chess Club, African Student Union and the Black Student Union. The scholarship program also has given him a chance to study abroad, something he never imagined.

He said the biggest challenge he’s faced was the fear he would never measure up, but he said by working through the fear he has come out the other side.

Phenelus has a strong spiritual foundation. He said he hopes to use his education to help the people of Haiti and help support his mother when she gets out of prison.

“My UF experience has been enlightening. I learned a lot about many different people, cultures and myself. I am proud to be an opportunity scholar because I had the opportunity to achieve my educational goals and make my mother proud,” he said.

He is graduating with an anthropology degree and is applying to law school.

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