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Fenwick Senior Is One of Two Students from Illinois to Receive Prestigious Jefferson Scholarship from UVA

April 16, 2018

Chris Sedlacek joins the ‘Jeff’ Class of 2022 at the University of Virginia and is set to enjoy his ‘full ride’ in Charlottesville.

By Mark Vruno

Early last month, we reported that Christopher Sedlacek ’18 was among the finalists in the running for the University of Virginia’s prestigious Jefferson Scholarship. Fenwick is proud to announce that Chris has become the second Jefferson Scholar in Fenwick’s rich, 89-year history! Seven years ago, the award was presented to math whiz kid Patrick McQuade ’11, who today is enrolled in a Material Sciences PhD program at Stanford University in Northern California.

Awarded on the basis of merit, the Jefferson Scholarship aims to attract well-rounded students who exemplify three qualities that define the life and legacy of the university’s founder Thomas Jefferson: leadership, scholarship and citizenship. Candidates undergo a highly competitive selection process and, if chosen, receive full financial support for four years of study.

"For one high school to have two students recognized in one of the country's most respected scholarship competitions is a remarkable occurrence, particularly in a relatively short period of time," notes Richard Borsch, Associate Principal and Director of Student Services at Fenwick.

Accepting a four-year college scholarship valued at nearly $300,000 may seem like a no-brainer to most people, but Sedlacek actually had to contemplate his decision before saying “yes” to Virginia’s generous offer.

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His Jefferson Scholarship is "more than monetary," insists Sedlacek (donning his UVA swag), who came to Fenwick from Park Junior High School in La Grange Park, IL.

“For me the attraction was more than monetary, more than a tuition check,” explains Sedlacek, whose collegiate short-list included the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the Villanova University School of Business in addition to the University of Virginia. He applied and was accepted to other Big Ten schools, too, including the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin.

He cites numerous enrichment activities, including networking and internship opportunities, that are a part of the Jefferson Scholarship. “There also are two study-abroad opportunities, leadership workshops and institutes, and small, seminar classes with professors that are only open to ‘Jeff’ Scholars,” notes Sedlacek, who came to Fenwick from Park Junior High in La Grange Park, IL. One college team-building activity to which he looks forward is a camping trip with fellow Jefferson Scholars.

Sedlacek may declare a finance major at UVA, but he also is interested in becoming an Echols Scholar, which could facilitate a cross-disciplinary double major. “I’m very intrigued by the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy,” he shares.

All of these value-added opportunities sealed the deal, much to the relief of his parents, Matthew and Kerri Sedlacek of La Grange, IL. (The couple's younger son, Joe, is a sophomore at Fenwick.) Matt is a senior VP of U.S. commercial sales for computer data storage firm Dell EMC, where he has worked for the past 17 years. “My Mom and Dad were nice about it,” Chris adds with a smile. “They told me not to feel obligated to accept the scholarship from UVA – that if I really wanted to go to Michigan or Villanova, we’d figure out a way to make it work. But I know it [my acceptance] is a huge relief for them financially because the scholarship covers all four years.” That amounts to $62,000 annually (out-of-state) at UVA. In addition to tuition, the annual stipend also includes fees, books, supplies, room, board and personal expenses.

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A copy of the acceptance letter (above) that Chris received from Jimmy Wright (below), who has presided over the Jefferson Scholarship Foundation for the past 34 years.

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On March 26th, just before spring break and after his “Selection Weekend” on campus, the reality became official as Sedlacek retrieved an electronic notification via the UVA online portal on his way to the car after tennis practice. Later that evening, he received a congratulatory call from Larry Tanner, chairman of the Jefferson Scholarship Foundation’s 15-person Regional Selection Committee in Illinois/Chicago.

"This year, high schools from around the world nominated more than 2,000 students for the Jefferson Scholarship," explains Tanner, who during the day works as a compliance analyst for petroleum company BP North America. "The Foundation received 35 nominations from schools within the Chicago region, which encompasses most of the state of Illinois and northwest Indiana."

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Larry Tanner, chairman of the scholarship foundation’s 15-person Regional Selection Committee in Illinois/Chicago, says Sedlacek possesses "Jeffersonian ideals of leadership, scholarship and citizenship."

One in 59

Sedlacek is one of 59 students offered the prestigious Jefferson Scholarship in 2018; approximately 34 others are expected to accept it. “Some kids turn it down for schools like Stanford or the Ivy League,” he explains. Only one other high school senior from Illinois received the honor this year: Mundelein High School's Ricky Garcia, who has decided to attend college elsewhere.

After Sedlacek, the Fenwick senior, applied to and was accepted by UVA, he learned from College Counselors Mrs. Laura Docherty and Mr. Richard Borsch that they are allowed to nominate one student for consideration to the Jefferson Scholarship Foundation. In her letter of recommendation, Mrs. Docherty called Sedlacek “one of the most inspirational individuals with whom I have come in contact. Chris makes a difference in many people’s lives each and every day.” Docherty included information about his participation in the Fenwick Broadcasting Club as well as Feed Our Future, the 501c charity that Sedlacek created to provide weekend meals for impoverished children.

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A double-major is in Sedlacek's sights, as is the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy (above). Founded by former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, UVA is situated in Charlottesville, only two hours from Washington, D.C.

Sedlacek applied for the Jefferson Scholarship, then traveled to downtown Chicago for a panel interview. “I was interviewed by UVA alums,” he explained. The second round was more intensive: “That panel was 10 people, including alumni, current students and faculty members.”

How did the 18-year-old handle the pressure? “I was prepared well and didn’t feel out of place,” he says. “The Fenwick faculty gets us ready for what adults expect. Since my freshman year administrators have told us to take responsibility and said, ‘You do this, not your parents.’ This year in Senior Theology, Father Greer set his expectations with us early on. He encouraged us to initiate conversations and would say things like, ‘You need to come to me.’ So I’m comfortable holding conversations [with adults] and adding to the conversation.”

Sedlacek also recalls the life lessons taught by Fenwick Science Teacher Dave Kleinhans, who spent 20 years in the corporate software world before getting into education. “Mr. Kleinhans treated our class like a business meeting. He expected us to show up on time, be well dressed and be prepared and ready to learn.” As a result, the young man was not intimidated interacting with adults in a professional setting.

What was intimidating, however, was when Jefferson Scholarship Foundation president Jimmy Wright announced at Selection Weekend that 49 of the 113 scholarship finalists were either the valedictorians or salutatorians of their respective classes. Hearing that statistic shook his confidence a bit, Sedlacek admits.

"Chris possesses the Jeffersonian ideals of leadership, scholarship and citizenship as demonstrated through his exceptional achievements at Fenwick High School and his contributions to the surrounding community," Tanner says. "The Selection Committee is thrilled Chris will enroll at the University of Virginia this fall, joining approximately 35 other Jefferson Scholars from around the world."

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