Oak Creek Matt Watwood’s elation Tuesday was obvious to the women working at the Oak Creek branch of the U.S. Post Office.
Postal clerk Grace Jones had called Watwood that morning to let him know a letter had arrived from the Boettcher Foundation. Watwood, a Soroco High School senior, got to the post office at about 11 a.m. to see whether the letter relayed good news or news that would be disappointing.
It was good.
“He was very excited, no doubt,” Jones said Thursday. “Then when he went outside, we could hear him. He made quite a lot of noise.”
Watwood’s celebration, what he described as a lot of screaming and yelling, was well deserved. He was chosen as one of only 40 recipients — out of 1,300 applicants — for the prestigious Boettcher Foundation Scholarship.
The merit-based scholarship will pay for Watwood’s four-year education at the Colorado college of his choice, counselor Lisa Omori said. He also will receive a book allowance and stipend for living expenses.
“It’s huge,” Omori said. “We don’t often get to celebrate huge accomplishments like this. It’s very meaningful.”
According to the South Routt School District’s records, Watwood is the third student in district history to receive the Boettcher scholarship, which has been awarded since 1952. Gregory Franklin Block received it in 2005, and Mark Ritkouski earned it in 1989.
Watwood said his first feeling after opening the letter was shock that shifted to joy and excitement. But he told himself to be careful to not damage the letter.
“My mom told me I wasn’t allowed to fold it up or rip the paper because she wanted to frame it,” he said.
One might think things come easy for Watwood.
Those who know him well say that’s not the case. Take magic, for example. He started learning tricks about four years ago. Seeing him perform, one might think he’s a natural.
Not so, his parents said.
“Everyone thinks it’s so easy, but he practices for hours,” said Watwood’s mother, Phyllis.
“It’s like everything. There are a lot of things that haven’t come really easy for him. He works really hard and takes a lot of pride in that,” she said.
That’s the way Watwood leads his life.
Whether it’s academics, athletics, music or even magic, Watwood puts everything he has into each endeavor, his parents, teachers and friends said.
And they said the Boettcher scholarship is a perfect example of that.
“It wasn’t something that was given to him. He worked for it,” said senior Cody Miles, a friend of Watwood’s since their days at South Routt Elementary School. “He’s not happy where he’s at. He continually pushes himself to get further and further.”
Phyllis Watwood said her son learned at an early age how to balance work and play. And it’s a good thing. He’s involved in so many activities that his parents, teachers and friends aren’t sure how he fits it all into his schedule.
He’s an athlete, a member of Soroco’s basketball, football and track and field teams and Steamboat Springs High School’s baseball team. He volunteers, the past two years as a junior leader at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps’ Yampa Valley Science School. He’s a musician, an accomplished tenor saxophonist and he’s learning to play guitar. He’s involved in school activities, as the lead boy of Soroco’s Student Council and vice president of the its chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America. He also carries a 4.0 grade-point average.
Watwood gave a simple explanation for how he finds the time to stay involved in so many pursuits.
“All of it’s fun,” he said with a wide grin, “so it doesn’t seem like I’m doing a lot.”
The application process for the Boettcher scholarship began with an online application that was due in November, Watwood said. As a semifinalist, he was asked to submit three letters of recommendation. As a finalist, he was interviewed Feb. 9 in Denver.
Sam McLeod, who has taught Watwood’s English classes the past three years, wrote one of the recommendation letters. McLeod smiled as he thought about how much Watwood has grown since his sophomore year.
This year, part of Watwood’s masterpieces of literature class — a college course — requires him to design and teach lessons in McLeod’s college composition class. McLeod said the assignment, which was designed for Watwood, is another example of the senior finding new avenues to learn.
“He’s done so much when it would have been easy to say that he didn’t have the resources or opportunities,” McLeod said. “He’s created his own path where opportunities to learn didn’t exist. He just doesn’t do it for himself. He does it for the betterment of the student body.”
McLeod said everyone else’s learning is more important to Watwood than his own. McLeod said Watwood has a “rich social consciousness” and cares deeply about the community and school.
“I think I can fairly say Matt is the strongest student I’ve worked with in education,” Soroco Principal Dennis Alt said. “The thing that sets Matt apart is he’s a natural leader. People gravitate toward him.”
Miles said Soroco has eagerly waited to find out whether Watwood earned the scholarship — even though they knew deep down that he would.
“We all wanted him to get it,” Miles said. “As soon as he went to the post office, we all wanted to know if he got it. The whole school’s been following in behind him.”
What it means
Alt said Watwood’s receiving the Boettcher scholarship was incredible for Soroco and a huge accomplishment for the school, which has about 115 students.
Watwood said the scholarship opens up many options for him and his parents.
“It takes away restrictions,” he said. “We’re not rich, but we’re not poor. I’ve looked at a lot of colleges, and some of them are out of my league. If I fall in love with one, I can go there. I won’t be paying it back for the rest of my life or making my parents pay it back the rest of their lives.”
He’s applied to the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Denver, the Colorado School of Mines in Golden and Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
Watwood’s father, Steve, said his son probably could have gone to just about any school, but it might have been a financial burden on their family.
Steve Watwood said the scholarship will make things easier on the family but that’s not the most important thing.
“He works so hard and does so many things,” he said about his son. “It’s great to see him rewarded for his effort.”
Upon receiving the good news — her son screaming into the phone — Phyllis Watwood said she and her husband cried.
“For him to apply and be accepted, there’s a lot of talented kids out there, it made us realize how talented he is and how lucky we are,” she said.
Watwood heeded his mother’s plea to take care with his letter from the Boettcher Foundation.
“It’s already framed and on the wall,” Phyllis Watwood said.