Meriden Puerto Rican Festival Committee announces expanded scholarships

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MERIDEN — Humza Miyan is the first in his family to go to college. Graduating third in his class at Platt High School this year, Miyan is already well on his way in his higher education studies. He completed advanced placement courses and is taking two college courses this summer. He’s studying accounting, and will enter Central Connecticut State University as a sophomore.

As a first-generation student, “I’m fully dependent on financial support,” said Miyan, the oldest of four siblings.

He’s earned a few scholarships. One recently announced from the Meriden Puerto Rican Festival Committee “means a lot,” he said. “This one, especially, because it’s about diversity.”

“I feel really honored,” said Miyan, “because Meriden is a really diverse town and of all the applicants they chose me.”

Despite the cancellation for the last two years of the showcase Puerto Rican Festival, which typically takes place the first weekend in August, the festival committee has been able to expand scholarships. The committee has granted a total of $10,000 in scholarships to 10 students, including those from Meriden high schools and adult learners, a new category.

While coronavirus restrictions in place early this year led to the cancellation of the festival, “this year we were glad to get that many scholarships and reach out to adults,” said Hector Cardona, committee chairman.

“The scholarships are part of the festival committee’s ongoing commitment,” said Diana Alicea, scholarship chair. “The work that the festival committee does is not just about that day, but also about giving back to the community.”

Alicea this year took over scholarship duties from Miguel Cardona, but the nation’s education secretary still played a significant role in the process. Scholarship awards were based on essays in which students were asked to respond to the following:

“Our new U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel A. Cardona, said, ‘Education is a great equalizer.’ How will you use your education to improve your life experience and your community?”

Miyan’s essay, which is can be found on today’s editorial page, includes the observation that “college is a pathway to success because it opens up greater opportunities in the workforce and provides a higher level of education. This is important to me because no one in my family has ever graduated from college before, which makes me strive to be the first one to do so.”

Miyan also talks about his interview with Cardona, a city resident, earlier this year. “I gained more insight into the impact that education has on people of color and those facing discrimination by our current society,” he wrote. “I also learned the significance of representation in schools and the role that it plays in a student’s education.”

While Cardona was not involved as chair of the scholarship committee this year, his influence greatly helped the expansion of the scholarships, with $8,000 raised from the sale of coffee mugs that included a photo of Cardona and highlighted the phrase “as American as apple pie and rice & beans.”

Cardona made the comment in late December, when President Joe Biden introduced him as his pick for education secretary. Cardona, who made several comments in Spanish, highlighted his upbringing: “I being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans,” he said.

The mugs, which are still available at Gallery 53, sold well enough since the beginning of the year to make a significant impact on the scholarship fund. Alicea and her neighbor, Cathy Martorella, came up with the idea as a way of celebrating Cardona’s nomination. The idea was to give one as a gift to Cardona.

“It originally was just a family gift,” recalled Martorella.

“It’s definitely been more than we could have anticipated or asked for,” she said.

The money raised by the mug sales led the committee to establish a new category of scholarships for adult learners. There are four recipients in that category, joining two each from Meriden’s high schools.

Rosana Panjon did not have an opportunity to go to college after she graduated from Platt in 1993. “I actually wanted to be a lawyer,” she said. She subsequently tried going to school but had to put those efforts on hold after having a child.

Now, at age 46, she’s pursuing studies in human services at Colorado Technical University, which she attends via remote learning. She has a year of study behind her, with a year and a half to go.

“My goal is to make a difference,” she said.

The scholarship will help.

“I was surprised it was opened up to somebody in my age group,” she said. “When it was brought up to me I was flattered and jumped at the opportunity.”

The scholarship recipients are:

Maloney High: Annie Patel and Jhoerlin Moreta Guillen.

Platt High: Tahlia Filippides and Humza Miyan.

Wilcox Tech: Ariana Chandarpal and Julaisa Santiago.

Adult learners: Luis Calderon-Correa, Kiev-My Nguyen, Kelvin Velez-Garcia and Rosana Panjon.

Jeffery Kurz is the Record-Journal’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 203-317-2213, or


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