Celebrating 35 Years of the Milken Scholars Program

Published 03/26/2024 in Alumni Features
Written by Ana Pavich, Khadijah Sharif-Drinkard, Jenny Tsang-Quinn | 03/26/2024

1989 was the era of Michael Jackson, MTV, and the explosion of Hip-hop. It was the beginning of the end of the Cold War, as the Berlin Wall came down. There was turmoil domestically as Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska; and then, a student-led uprising in Tiananmen Square, China.

And … it was also the birth of the Milken Scholars Program, where Mike and Lori Milken selected the first class of sixteen scholars from the castle on the hill in Harlem - A. Philip Randolph Campus High School. We could have never imagined from our first meeting with Mike and Lori in our principal, Dr. Lottie Taylor’s office, a family of scholars would have germinated; and we certainly had no idea that 35 years later we would have more than 560 scholars from New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., with origins in 78 countries.

As the Milken Scholars Program prepares to celebrate its 35th anniversary, we take a moment to reflect on our time in the Milken Scholars Family.

Our definition of family is broader than a traditional one. We are a group brought together through our shared commitment to the four pillars of the Scholars Program - scholarship, leadership, service and character and we share one vision: to leave the space we occupy a better place than when we entered it.

Here we are, 35 years after our high school graduation, still actively participating in a program that stopped providing financial support for our education many decades ago. Many of us have known each other longer than we’ve known our life partners. We’ve been together through life’s ups and downs: navigating higher education as first-generation college students; landing our first full-time professional jobs; earning that first promotion at work; professional pivots and redirections; getting married and having children; losing parents and other relatives; and learning how to prioritize our current and future well-being, also known as planning for retirement. Through the peaks and valleys, no matter how unique our experiences have been, the one constant for many of us is our fellow Milken Scholars. And that’s why we are far more than a scholarship program - we are Family.

MM LM Tommy Lasorda and Alumni

Unlike traditional scholarship organizations, the Milken Scholars Program creates opportunities for Scholars to connect with one another, interact with friends and supporters of the Milken Family Foundation/Milken Institute and their programs, and provide access to thought leaders and innovators across industries. Program leaders have developed structured, curated events as well as supported meetings amongst Scholars on college campuses, in the workplace, and when Scholars are working and traveling abroad. Even through the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, program leadership found ways to keep Scholars connected and encouraged fellowship throughout this difficult period.

Mike and Lori envisioned a world in which we could build meaningful lives. They believed then and still do today, that young people are a community’s most precious resource, and investments in them and in their education will yield monumental returns in the quality of life of those young people and in the communities they serve. While their financial support has enabled generations of young adults to soar, it has also allowed the Scholars to create generational stability. The kind of stability that combines financial success with doors of opportunity and now access to an entirely new generation of Scholars’ families.

As Scholars, we now have a roadmap of new career opportunities. We can tap into resources now at our disposal and leverage the vast network of the Milken Family Foundation and Milken Institute. We can help our families make informed decisions around career choices, often helping one another find jobs, internships and thinking through pivotal career decisions. We can dream bigger and bolder in large part due to Mike and Lori’s commitment. We are a community of lifelong leaders who exemplify their vision through the communities we touch domestically and abroad. Our hope is that the Program continues for 35+ more years and remains a cadre of dreamers who use their power to transform this world into the place that we all deserve - a kind, caring and inclusive place that judges us not by where we start off in life but by the measure of our ideas and actions to improve the world.