Springtime luncheons around town typically include announcements of scholarship winners from Key West High School. Rotary clubs, chambers of commerce, lodging associations and community foundations invest heavily in the island’s future.
Students from all walks of life apply for college scholarships, challenging the selection committees to choose recipients from among a deep pool of deserving and talented students.
But often, we lose track of those scholarship recipients, who head off to college, continue their graduate studies or begin a fascinating career.
The Keys Weekly caught up this week with one such scholarship recipient, who continues to make her community and her family proud.
Alex Lichtl has just started her first semester of medical school at NYU, where only the top 1% of applicants are accepted.
In 2015, Lichtl received the Key West Rotary Club’s Paul J. Sher Memorial Scholarship for $25,000. It’s the club’s largest scholarship and was combined with the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys’ scholarship and other local awards that helped fund Lichtl’s undergraduate education.
Selection for the Rotary scholarship is based on academic achievement, character, service and financial need, said Rotarian Amber Ernst-Leonard, who heads the club’s scholarship committee. “The top students are interviewed by a panel of Rotarians, and Alex’s high school track record was impressive: No. 1 in her 2015 class with an unweighted grade point average of 4.0 and No. 3 in her class with a weighted GPA of 4.545. She also had accumulated 416 community service hours, much of which was acquired while traveling with the KWHS One World Canvas club to Haiti and Kenya. Plus, she was co-captain of KWHS swim team and was working two jobs in her senior year — as a hostess at Roostica and a tutor/babysitter.”
Lichtl graduated from Duke University in 2019 with a 4.0 grade point average and started her first semester at NYU Medical School this past August.
“I was on the pre-med track at Duke, but had gone in kind of tentatively,” Lichtl said. “I just knew I wanted a hands-on career with people rather than one spent at a desk in front of a computer.”
Lichtl spent the year between Duke and NYU in Los Angeles doing an internship program at an orthopedic center while applying to medical schools.
“I had been waitlisted at NYU and actually had already found an apartment in Virginia to attend a different medical school, but when I got the call from New York, my plans changed dramatically,” Lichtl said, adding that NYU, through a partnership with the founder of The Home Depot, covers students’ tuition while they’re responsible for room and board. “I’m really excited, and will be moving up to New York City to start a hybrid of virtual and in-person classes in January.”
And just to make this a true Key West story, Licthl is doing some of her virtual med school classes from a boat at Safe Harbor Marina, where her father lives.
“It’s sort of the best of both worlds,” Lichtl said on Oct. 20 between online classes. “My dad lives on the boat, and my mom lives five minutes away, so I can go back and forth, especially when I want a real bathroom and tub.”
Born and raised in Key West, Lichtl had always assumed she would attend college somewhere in Florida, “because that’s what most kids always do,” she said. “I applied to Duke sort of on a whim because my dad had always liked their basketball team. Then when I did a college tour, I fell in love with it. Plus, Roman Azra, who graduated from Key West the year before me, was already at Duke, so he sort of paved the way to prove that kids from Key West really can go out of state to college.”
Lichtl’s advice for current KWHS students?
“I thought I would have to go to an in-state school due to financial constraints, but I want students to know it’s entirely possible to go to an out-of-state college. There’s some great scholarships and financial aid available, and some schools will cover students’ demonstrated financial need. After my scholarships, Duke met the rest of my financial need and there are several schools that will do that. Anything’s possible, and I’m truly grateful for the support I received from my family and the Key West community that made my education possible.”