When Steven Londoño, 17, a senior at Godwin High School, was contacted by a representative from “Good Morning America,” he thought he would appear on television for about 10 seconds to talk about school during a pandemic.
He had forgotten that when he was practicing for the SATs, he applied for the Complete Your Journey Scholarship, which is a $40,000 prize from the College Board.
“It was a complete surprise,” he said in an interview about the announcement, which was made late last month. “I thought it was random.”
In the middle of the segment, College Board CEO David Coleman appeared to announce that Steven, along with 24 other high school seniors who were deemed eligible, had been picked in a drawing to receive the $40,000 prize.
Londoño, along with his family, was stunned. His mother cried; his dad was at work in a very quiet office, and made a lot of noise because he was so proud, Londoño said. The family went out to Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant in Short Pump for the first time since the pandemic started to celebrate.
Money was a big worry for Londoño when it came to college. He has heard a lot about how many of the adults in his life are still paying off student loans that began to accumulate when they were just teenagers.
While money was a worrisome part of college, he still wants to pursue his love for the guitar and piano. He hopes to use his inspirations like Jimi Hendrix and Maurice Ravel, an impressionist French composer from the 1800s, to compose his own music.
“I was really scared about coming into debt,” he said. “I feel like with my personality and what I’m interested in, It’s not going to lead me into a life where I’m going to get paid a lot of money.”
Londoño has spent a lot of time listening to his family and friends talk about the possibility of student loan debt, which inspired him to attend an in-state school, James Madison University. He plans to double major in music and sociology.
“The average person who has student loan debt is like, insane,” Londoño said. “That’s what made me aware. The $40,000 was a huge relief for me. It’s still at the back of my mind. I’m still not an adult, I still don’t pay bills. … It’s going to help me out big.”
In-state tuition at James Madison University is $7,250 per year, not including various fees, according to its website. When room and board and comprehensive fees are included, a year of instruction at the university costs around $20,000. Costs for out-of-state students total $40,818.
According to federal student loan data analyzed by EducationData.org, $40.3 billion of student loan debt comes from Virginians. More than 1 million Virginians have student loans to pay off, and the average student loan borrower in the state has $39,000 in student loan debt.
“I think they should absolutely cancel it,” Londoño said, referring to proposals for the federal government to forgive some student loan debt.
“I believe that we have the ability to offer free higher education,” he said. “I think that would be in the best interest for our country to improve our education, because that’s how we improve on society, by learning.”