Six high school students, five from Long Island, were surprised with a full scholarships by the U.S. Army and Suffolk County officials on Wednesday at the Suffolk County H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Loraca

U.S. Army and Suffolk County officials surprised six high school students, five from Long Island, with full scholarships Wednesday totaling $1.5 million.

The seniors were invited to the Suffolk County H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge Wednesday morning, where they were told they were undergoing their final interviews to be eligible for scholarships from the ROTC Minuteman Reserve Officer’s Training Corps.

Instead, the students and their families were told each student would be getting a full scholarship to attend Long Island University and St. John’s University.

“I know I told all of you you’ll be interviewed for a final time, and I’m sure you and your parents are nervous about this. It would be a dream to award full scholarships to attend St. John’s and LIU,” said Steven A. Castleton, a civilian aide to the Secretary to the Army. “Well, I lied and dreams do come true. There’s no more interviews. Every one of you are going to receive full-ride scholarships.”

Parents of the students, who were standing behind the officials during the announcement, erupted in applause.

Each student was presented with oversized checks after they were selected for their work in ROTC and interest in military service.

“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen today. I’m excited to be something far bigger than myself,” said Courtney Skahill, who was awarded a scholarship with her twin brother, Christopher. “The scholarship’s amazing. It’s going to change my life tremendously.”

The scholarships were awarded through the Minuteman program, which offers Guaranteed Reserve Forces Duty scholarships to cover full tuition and fees or $10,000 per year toward room and board at any college served by an Army ROTC program.

Recipients can maintain status in their reserve unit while simultaneously attending college and serving as a cadet toward commission as an officer, according to the Army.

Scholarships were awarded to Jocelyn M. Velasquez and Valery Rodriguez of Brentwood High School; Liza Shehbaz of Copiague High School; the Skahill twins from West Islip High School; and Xian (Anson) Zhou Dong of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.

“Families, you are loaning us your most precious asset for a calling much higher than all of us in this room,” said Brig. Gen. Jake S. Kwon. “The Army is a team of teams. You have embarked on a journey to a cause higher than yourself and the principles of what makes this country great.”

With Alejandra Villa Loarca

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