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Hilton College Senior Surprised with Super-Sized Scholarship

The willingness to volunteer really can lead to opportunities of a lifetime – just ask senior Chelsea Lawson. When she signed up to help Hyatt Hotels Corporation run a fundraising event in Chicago, she had no idea she would be coming home with a job after graduation and a $20,000 scholarship!

The story begins in April, when Hilton College-San Antonio Assistant Dean Ashli Johnson and career counselor Gloria Ratliff learned about a student networking opportunity offered by Hyatt to members of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH). As faculty advisors for the NSMH Cougar Chapter, Johnson and Ratliff encouraged their students, including Lawson, to apply.

According to the invitation, those selected for the opportunity would get a chance to rub elbows with the company’s senior leaders and vendor stakeholders during the Hyatt Hospitality Education Fundraiser at Hyatt Regency McCormick Place on May 20. Hyatt would also cover the cost of round-trip travel and lodging accommodations.

Lawson submitted a video application naming the reasons why she wanted to attend, and why she wanted to work in hospitality. Less than a month later, she was packing her bags for the Windy City as one of only three students selected from across the United States.

“We all thought it was a big deal that Hyatt was covering our air fare and hotel stay just so we could network and tour the corporate office,” Lawson said. “We didn’t know something so much bigger was in store, and that our lives were about to change.”

Before the event came to a close, all three were called to the stage to share a little bit about themselves. After their comments came the most memorable part of the evening… the education fundraiser was for their benefit, and Hyatt had planned it as a surprise all along. In shock and in tears, Lawson accepted a giant check for $20,000 with her name on it! AND, she was also given a spot in the Hyatt Corporate Management Training (CMT) program.

“I really had no idea that we were the honorees, and neither did Gloria nor Assistant Dean Johnson,” she said. “I was going to inquire about how to apply for the scholarship, but it was already in my name!”

After calling her mother, Lawson took a moment to let the evening’s events sink in. Coming from a single-parent household, she has had to pay for college on her own, including her living expenses.  

“It has been really hard, and there have been times when I thought I would have to leave school,” she said. “This scholarship has taken a huge financial load off my shoulders, and will allow me to focus on graduating in 2020.”

As for her CMT program, the options are wide open. Lawson’s interests lie in revenue management, human resources and finance. She’s also learning about global operations with her summer internship in Bethesda, Maryland at Marriott International Corporate Headquarters. After she returns to Houston in August, she will begin the semester with a grateful heart and a mission to inspire others.

“I am incredibly thankful to Hyatt, and to everyone who has helped me through this journey,” she said. “By sharing my story, I hope I can inspire other students to keep chasing their dreams and to take every opportunity – no matter how small they think it might be. You never know what doors it could open in the future!”

(Story: Pearl Cajoles | Photo: Courtesy of Chelsea Lawson)

Published on July 18, 2019