MCC-Penn Valley student Chebet Buckner wins Chancellor’s MLK Scholarship

Chebet Buckner, an early college student at MCC-Penn Valley, grew emotional as she accepted the Chancellor's MLK Scholarship.
Chebet Buckner, an early college student at MCC-Penn Valley, grew emotional as she accepted the Chancellor’s MLK Scholarship. (Photos by Jordan Williams and Tim Engle/MCC)

Chebet Buckner, a “wonderfully impassioned” and “highly gifted” early college student, is the 2017 recipient of the Chancellor’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship.

Buckner, who just turned 18, was presented with the scholarship at a luncheon Jan. 20 at MCC-Penn Valley. She will graduate from MCC and Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in May. The Early College Academy was started by Kansas City Public Schools to give highly motivated students the opportunity to earn their high school diploma and MCC associate degree at the same time.

After being presented the award by MCC Chancellor Mark James, an emotional Buckner said the Penn Valley campus has been like her home for the past two years.

Chancellor Mark James presents MCC's MLK scholarship to Chebet Buckner.
Chancellor Mark James presents MCC’s MLK scholarship to Chebet Buckner.

She’s planning to earn a bachelor’s degree in communication arts with a minor in education and then become a high school debate coach. This is territory she knows: Buckner is captain of the debate team at her high school.

Chebet Buckner with Paula Schaaf (right), coordinator of early college programs for Kansas City Public Schools
Chebet Buckner with Paula Schaaf (right), coordinator of early college programs for Kansas City Public Schools

She “disagrees with me as often as any student I can ever remember!” wrote Paula Schaaf, coordinator of early college programs for Kansas City Public Schools, in a reference letter that also called Buckner “wonderfully impassioned and responsive to challenging classes and challenging ideas.”

The student’s statements of opinion “are dramatic, sometimes even melodramatic, but they are wonderfully honest,” Schaaf wrote,  and “can range from lyrical appreciation to scathing criticism, often expressed with humor and always with a mixture of adolescent sensitivity and an intellect way beyond her years.”

At MCC-Penn Valley, Buckner has also been a student worker in the administration offices, where she has undertaken projects such as an inventory of campus furnishings and how to better place them. She has also served as a student voice on several committees.

You may think she’s all work and little play, but Schaaf says Buckner can also be found searching the campus for Pokemon from time to time.

English instructor Craig Bartholomaus describes Buckner as “one of the best half-dozen or so students I have had in 20 years of teaching at the college — not high school — level. She is that rare student who was both highly gifted and very hard-working,” he wrote in a reference letter.

That she’s still in high school “boggles my mind every time I remember it,” Bartholomaus added.

Chebet Buckner with MCC Chancellor Mark James
Chebet Buckner with MCC Chancellor Mark James

At Penn Valley, Buckner is president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society — another unusual feat for a high school student.

Her list of honors includes the Spirit of Activism Award presented by the Urban League of Greater Kansas City for taking part in a peaceful protest against police brutality. She was also inducted into the National Honor Society at Lincoln.

In her essay for the MLK scholarship, Buckner writes that one injustice she has observed is a lack of mentors: “A mentor can often times be the difference between someone reaching their goal or throwing it away. I hope to one day use my skills and experiences to help a young adult navigate the various decisions and issues that will occur during their lifetime.”

Not only is she apparently a born debater, she sees speech and debate as a lifesaver for some students:

“I believe that when low income students have access to educational activities like debate, they are afforded the chance to grow into influential leaders, as well as given the knowledge and resources needed to better their circumstances.”

The $500 MLK scholarship is awarded to students in MCC’s Early College Program. Among other criteria, they must show leadership potential and an interest in serving the MCC and wider communities.

Keynote speaker for the Chancellor’s Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Luncheon was Alonzo Jones, associate athletic director at Arizona State University. Jones, in presenting some biographical tidbits about King, urged educators not to deify the civil rights leader but to portray him as a human being, flaws and all, with whom students can identify. (Read more about Jones’ speech)

The third annual event was designed to give MCC employees time to focus and reflect on Dr. King’s legacy. The vision for this initiative was developed by Kathy Walter-Mack, the MCC chief of staff. The event was sponsored by the Chancellor’s Office and  planned by Robert Page, the executive director of inclusion and engagement. This year’s event was also sponsored by the KU Edwards Campus and KU Medical Center.

This was the third annual Chancellor's Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon.
This was the third annual Chancellor’s Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon.

Related: Chebet Buckner co-hosted MCC’s Fall 2016 welcome video. Watch it here: