Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Recent graduate of Meadowcreek High School Alex Steele has been awarded the Gates Millinum Scholarship. While attending Meadowcreek High School Steele competed in football, wrestling and track. In the fall Steele plans to study computer engineering at the University of Georgia.
In late April, Alex Steele was at the Region 7-AAAAA track and field championship, trying to earn a spot at the state sectional.
A few minutes before he was about to race, the recent Meadowcreek graduate got a text message from his father Abdul that said to call him. Then moments later, he got a call from his dad.
"At first I thought I was in trouble," Steele said. "Because he usually texts me when I'm at track and doesn't call."
When Steele answered the phone, he could barely understand what his father was saying. He was so excited on the phone call that Steele quickly figured out he wasn't in trouble. It took him a few moments before he could make out what his father was saying over the phone.
"He told me I won the scholarship," Steele said.
It wasn't just any scholarship, it was the Gates Millennium Scholarship.
Steele was one of 1,000 seniors across the country awarded the prestigious scholarship that pays for college education fees through graduation at any college or university of the student's choice. The program began in 1999 and was initially funded by a $1 billion grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Steele was one of 88 students from Georgia selected and one of 11 from Gwinnett County.
"He's just an all-around good athlete and had good grades," Meadowcreek track coach Kevin Crawley said. "More importantly, he's a great person."
Steele originally applied for the Gates scholarship with the encouragement of one of his teachers. He had to find someone to recommend and nominate him, and then he had to write eight different essays.
"At first I did it because my teacher said to do it," Steele said. "Then I realized how hard it is to get a scholarship and I took it a little more seriously. I never thought I would win it because I've never won anything in my life."
With the scholarship, Steele can now pursue his dream to attend the University of Georgia. He likely still would have gone to UGA without the scholarship, but several small scholarships and financial aid would have been a necessity.
"Honestly, I didn't know how I was going to pay for it," Steele said. "When I got that, my life was set."
Steele maintained a 3.9 GPA while taking AP courses at Meadowcreek. He only had three B's his entire high school career and he's embarrassed to say one was in health. He was also a three-sport standout for the Mustangs, competing on the football, wrestling and track and field teams.
On the football team, Steele was a three-year starter at linebacker, was the team captain and the team's scholar-athlete award recipient.
"When he was with the football team, academically he always set the example," Meadowcreek football coach Dearrio Grimmage said. "He's a role model and he embraced what we stand for to be the best student-athlete."
Steele was an accomplished wrestler, qualifying for the traditional state tournament at 160 pounds. He placed third at the Gwinnett County and Area 7-AAAAA meets. He also set a school record for pins in a season with 37 and nearly broke the career record.
"Alex has just been an outstanding contributor to the school all the way around," Meadowcreek wrestling coach Richard Schumacher said. "He's an outstanding person first and such an athlete. He's good in both areas."
On the track, Steele was a state sectional qualifier in the 110 hurdles.
"He's a great leader. I wish I could clone him 30 times," Crawley said. "He's a really smart kid, but he grew into the leadership role. Anything I asked him to do, he would do it."
Steele was also very active with clubs and activities at Meadowcreek. He spent three years as the president of S.Q.U.A.D., a school fraternity that does community service work like building playgrounds and picking up trash. He was also a peer leader, tutoring kids at the middle school, and was a mentor for rising ninth-graders. Steele was also a Meadowcreek ambassador, providing ideas on how to improve the school.
"I like to keep really busy. I don't like the idle time," Steele said.
Steele plans on majoring in computer engineering at UGA. He hopes to one day work for Google or Apple as a computer engineer.
"It's a true blessing," Steele said. "Hard work does really work. I never gave up. I think God was putting me through tough times to prepare me. I'm blessed to be given this scholarship."