PITTSFIELD -- On Thursday, Paul "Poppy" Green, a senior at Taconic High School, will travel on his own to Atlanta, where he will join 251 other finalists in the national Coca-Cola Scholars program.
The all expenses-paid, four-day trip is part of the prestigious program that will ultimately award 52 four-year college scholarships of $20,000 and 200 four-year scholarships of $10,000 to high school seniors after interviewing with a National Selection Committee.
Like his fellow finalists, Green was selected to be a part of the program based on his significant achievements. He says, however, there are also countless other seniors who are working hard to get their own scholarships and find their way into a good college.
"You have to apply for as many [scholarships] as you can," said Green, who credits the Taconic guidance department for actively reminding students to apply.
Green was one of four Berkshire County students to be honored as semi-finalists in the Coca-Cola Scholars competition, including Kenneth Black of Pittsfield High School, and Alyssa Latimer and Molly Barbarotta, also of Taconic. Green was the only one chosen as a finalist.
"College is so expensive. Coming out of college with $100,000 in debt -- you hear about that all too often, especially if you want to go to grad school. Your hopes and dreams have a price tag to them," Green said.
The young man has a passion for science, the kind President Barack Obama and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick have been calling in their agenda to advance STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.
"It's about exploration. There's so much unknown. The thing that's attractive about science is that it's always changing," Green said.
A member of Taconic's S.E.A. -- Science & Engineering Academy -- program, Green plans to attend Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., to study biology. He's also considering a pre-med track.
According to the college's website, the estimated direct costs of tuition, room, board and fees for the 2013-14 school year is $57,790. Costs associated with books and supplies, personal expenses and travel is estimated up to an additional $3,800.
"Every little bit helps," said Green, in regard to getting financial aid.
To even qualify for the kind of scholarship like the one Coca-Cola offers, students commit themselves to successfully taking on rigorous academic and extra-curricular activities, and for some students, work.
Over the past four years of high school, Green, for example, has been a member of the Youth Leadership Program of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce; a participant in the Nuclea Summer Science Institute for two years in a row; a three-time participant in local and regional science fairs; a member of the Berkshire AHEC's Youth Health Service Corps, through which he became CPR and First Aid certified; on his class council and part of a student ambassadors program; a member of National Honor Society and the Pittsfield Citizens' Scholarship Foundation. He's also played lacrosse and football, the latter of which he will continue to do at Hamilton.
Green said although outcomes like having a good resume for college and scholarship applications is important, the greatest reward is personal growth. In his scholarship essay, for example, Green let his sense of humor and sincerity ring through. Instead of writing about one of the above achievements, he wrote about valuing the simple joys in life. For him, this includes Taco Bell, dogs, the usefulness of extension cords and hanging up Christmas lights.
"You can't just do it for your resume," he said. "You have to follow your passions and remember that as you continue on in life, your morals and values will get tested more and more. That's why it's all about being yourself."