The average college student in New Jersey graduates owing nearly $30,000 in loans.
Morristown High School seniors Karla Escobar and Angelina Bennett won’t have those worries.
“A weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” Escobar said on Tuesday, after thanking the family that has given she and Bennett $100,000 scholarships to attend a public university in the state.
Teammates on the MHS swim team, they are the first winners of the Judy and Eliot Steinberg Scholarship, a $1 million gift established by the Steinbergs’ children in honor of their parents.
Escobar and Bennett were chosen by the Steinbergs and the Morris Educational Foundation from 11 student applicants, based on their scholastic achievement, community involvement and financial need.
“We all had our educations paid for, and it helped a lot. And we thought this would help others,” Julian Steinberg (MHS ’73) said of the scholarship, described as “life-changing” by Principal Mark Manning during a ceremony on the school’s Heritage Stairs.
Julian Steinberg was joined by his brothers Robert (MHS ’69) and Andy (MHS ’75) and their 94-year-old father, Eliot, a retired Warner Lambert chemist. Their mother Judy, who taught at Morristown’s Temple B’nai Or and established its Shalom Club for seniors, passed away a decade ago.
“It just shows something rubbed off right,” Eliot Steinberg said of his sons’ gift. “When you help other people lift themselves up, there is no better feeling you can have.”
As president of the Morris Township school board in the late 1960s, Eliot Steinberg opposed residents who attempted to build a high school there. “We would have had de facto segregation,” said the family patriarch, who still resides in Morris County.
The courts subsequently ordered Morris Township and Morristown to merge their schools, creating the Morris School District.
‘HERE, YOU CAN FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS’
Students wishing to pursue studies in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), business, education or medicine at New Jersey state schools are eligible for the scholarship.
Bennett plans to study early childhood education and special education at Rowan University.
“It still feels unreal to me,” she said of the award, good for up to $25,000 year for four years. She had been facing the prospect of college debt because her single mom is a nurse and tuition would have posed a burden, she said.
“Now I feel I can be very confident in my future.”
Bennett is a member of Morristown High’s Italian Club, and the Italian Honor Society. She also volunteers on service projects in Appalachia with the Morristown United Methodist Church. “I love going on those trips,” she said.
Escobar, who volunteers as a Big Sister and plays lacrosse for MHS, aims to study elementary education at Montclair State University or Rutgers University.
“I can’t stop smiling,” she said. With a younger brother and sister eventually heading to college, Escobar expressed relief that she won’t plunge her parents, naturalized U.S. citizens from El Salvador, into debt.
Her father, Jose Escobar, drives a bus for Morris County’s transit system for the elderly and disabled, and her mother is a homemaker.
“This is something really big. It’s going to change everything,” Jose said in Spanish, interpreted by his daughter Jennifer, an MHS sophomore. “Here, you can follow your dreams.”
The Steinbergs know that is true. Eliot’s parents were immigrants, too — his dad from Lithuania, his mom from Poland.
His boys brought their scholarship idea to Temple B’nai Or — where he once was president — and the temple steered them to the Morris Educational Foundation.
“The generosity of loyal alumni like the Steinbergs is truly humbling,” MEF Executive Director Debbie Sontupe said in a statement.
Morris School District Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast thanked the family for helping the high school create good citizens and a healthy community.
“We are our strongest asset, the people of this community. We elevate each other. That’s what you’re doing, and we’re so grateful,” Pendergrast said.
Julian Steinberg, who was CEO of a chemical business, is retired in Ohio. Andy Steinberg has a computer business in Lake Hopatcong. Robert Steinberg is a retired anesthesiologist living in western Massachusetts.
“It’s not often that you’re given an opportunity to give back. There is no shortage of people that are in need of this kind of support,” Andy said.
“It’s a privilege to be able to do it,” Robert added.