Amelia Zeve anticipated the moment for some time — in fact, during the family camping trip from which she had just returned, had imagined how the scene might play out — when the Ashland High senior finally received the call for which she was waiting.
It was a voice mail from Rebecca Hartley, cochair of the Sullivan Leadership Award selection committee. Zeve knew why Hartley was calling. Decisions had been made, and either Zeve was about to be told that she would be attending Seattle University for free — the merit scholarship covers tuition plus room and board for four years, a $240,000 value — or that the promising scholarship opportunity that first sank its claws into her imagination five months prior, costing her not one but two 16-hour roadies to Seattle, not to mention an opportunity to speak at the Ashland Women’s March, would ultimately amount to zilch.
So when Hartley answered Zeve’s call and reported that the news was good, that Zeve “got the Sullivan,” Zeve could be forgiven for her initial response, which was disbelief followed by spontaneous laughter.
“And I was like, ‘ Are you joking?’” Zeve said. “And (Hartley) was like, ‘No, I don’t think I would joke about something like that.’ And I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ She said, ‘I’m positive.’ And then I literally laughed into the phone for like a minute because laughter is my body’s response to good news.”
That call came March 27, and now, almost two weeks later, Zeve says it’s just starting to sink in. Hundreds applied for the prestigious scholarship; Zeve was one of only nine winners.
“It honestly has been a really slow realization,” she said. “I got the call over a week ago and now it is just starting to feel real. When I first got it, I was shocked for the first two days, and someone would try to talk to me and I would just kind of mumble incoherently because it didn’t feel real at all.”
Seattle University wasn’t really on Zeve’s radar until her and her mom, Ashland school board member and Aspire college counselor Deneice Zeve, visited the campus on a whim last October.
Deneice Zeve loved what she saw and thought its liberal arts offerings and location in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood would be a perfect fit for her daughter, but at the time Amelia Zeve’s heart was still set on staying in Oregon. A big-city college did not appeal to her, at least not yet. Then, while researching the school through its website, the Zeves found a link to the Sullivan Leadership Award. It was a doozy financially, especially for a school with a roughly $56,000-per-year price tag, and its emphasis on leadership qualities seemed to fit Amelia Zeve — Ashland High’s associate student body co-president — to a T.
“We were reading the descriptors of the people who had won it in the past, we were like, ‘This kind of sounds like me,’" she said.
So Zeve threw her hat into the ring, making Seattle University one of five colleges she applied to. And she waited. Shortly before Christmas, she received an acceptance letter from Seattle University. Stuffed inside the envelope was a notice that she had made the first cut for the Sullivan and was invited to campus for a group interview slated for Jan. 22. It’s a date Zeve remembers well because she had already agreed to do something else that day, something she cared deeply about — speak at the Ashland Women’s March. Zeve was scheduled to be one of five speakers.
At first, she was leaning toward giving up on the scholarship and speaking. Her reasoning was sound. It was guaranteed to be a special day in Ashland, something she would likely never forget, while the Sullivan was still a longshot, at best. She was one of 325 highly qualified students invited to Seattle, and even if they liked her there was still yet another round of interviews to worry about, and another long drive north.
She had all but decided in her mind to skip the interview in favor of the march when she was asked, first by her co-president, Kate Joss-Bradley, and later by her mom, to consider that the scholarship opportunity could be a life-changer. After a few other close friends chimed in, Zeve finally agreed.
“Me and a couple close, trusted friends all kind of came to the same conclusion at the same time — that I couldn’t pass it up,” she said.
Zeve didn’t know what to expect when she arrived on campus with her dad, Lincoln Zeve, and started to feel a little intimidated once a Seattle University representative told the students to say goodbye to their parents because the next round was about to begin. The students — 316 in all (only nine declined the invite), all dressed in business casual — were led into an enormous ballroom and asked to find a seat around one of 50 or so large round tables.
“It’s this massive ballroom and it’s packed with kids,” Zeve said, “more kids than I’ve ever seen living in Ashland.”
Sitting around each table were one Seattle University college admission representative and 10 Sullivan hopefuls, each of which were asked a month prior to read “The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children — And the World,” by Roger Thurow.
Zeve, a former speech and debate state semifinalist, settled down once the discussion got going, but still left Seattle that day convinced that she would not make the next round of cuts. She was satisfied with her discussion points, but felt the timed essay requirement — three small essays rather than her preference of one long one — did not play to her strengths.
Two weeks later, in early February, Zeve received a call from the university informing her that was still in the running. She wasn’t told how many of her peers she was still competing against, but a quick Google search revealed that she was one of 44 finalists.
Zeve’s final “interview” for the Sullivan made the first look like a walk through Lithia Park. She was asked to write and memorize a five-minute speech outlining her plan to solve childhood malnutrition and present it to three members of the Sullivan selection committee as she would if they were state senators.
“My solution was cultivating community gardens and food deserts across the United States, which is actually a pretty plausible solution,” she said.
The presentation went well, and sitting in small room playing the role of senator was Hartley, who broke the news to Zeve a few weeks later.
Zeve is still shocked that she landed a scholarship worth roughly a quarter of a million dollars, but it’s doubtful that anybody who’s seen her resume or has worked with her on one of the dozens of projects for which she’s served a leadership role would so much as bat an eye.
Besides serving as co-student body president, Zeve twice was named the Ashland water polo team captain, was recently named the youngest house manager in the history of the Ashland Independent Film Festival, earned homecoming royalty honors and, despite taking multiple advanced placement courses, is currently carrying a sparkling 3.89 grade point average.
When asked to name her influences, Zeve ticked off a long list which included her parents, her girlfriend Autumn Ekwall, and several teachers, including Nikki Thommen.
Thommen first met Zeve when she was a freshman, and she’s currently in Thommen’s creative writing class. When asked to describe Zeve, Thommen painted a picture of a person who has a hunger for knowledge and approaches every problem with an open mind.
“First of all, her personality is just filled with enthusiasm and curiosity,” Thommen said. “She is just one of these people who is endlessly curious about the world and she has the capacity to develop really strong opinions if she wanted to, but she refrains from that and instead is just always wanting to hear more. So she, I think, is such a good example for the kind of way that all of us could meet the world and meet our experiences and meet our challenges — to just kind of confront them with curiosity as opposed to fear. Amelia does that all the time.
“She smart, but lots of kids are smart. She’s friendly, but lots of kids are friendly. But she has a well of enthusiasm and curiosity that I think is an example for everyone, not just her peers.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.