Rock Island High junior offered full scholarship worth more than $184,000 to Augustana

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Augustana College in Rock Island is awarding Riley Jones of Rock Island High School a full tuition scholarship to attend Augustana for her positive contributions to Rock Island, the private school announced Tuesday.

“In the season of gratitude, Augustana will be showing ours to Riley through a one-of-a-kind scholarship should she choose to enroll at Augustana in the fall of 2023,” the college said. “Major contributions to our hometown are something the college is incredibly grateful for and Riley’s are immense.”

Jones, a Rocky junior, was surprised with the offer (an outsize check, gift bag and balloons) Tuesday at the high school library, with her parents (Augustana alums Jerry and Kathy Jones), her maternal grandparents, and officials from both the college and Rock Island-school district in attendance. Her winning Congressional Art Competition piece “Black Pride” can be seen on a brick wall in an alley at 313 20th St., in downtown Rock Island.

“Riley embodies the type of student Augustana hopes to enroll: creative, curious, and deeply engaged in her community,” the college said in a statement before the big surprise. Tuition alone for Augie in 2021-22 is $46,039, so a four-year scholarship is worth at least $184,156.

“I’m really excited about how amazing all our students are, but your piece ‘Black Pride,’ it’s incredibly powerful and you are just amazing,” Emma Adebayo, Augie’s executive director of admissions, told Jones Tuesday. “We’re very proud of you. We know you’re going to have amazing options. You are a stellar young person and we’re honored with the acclaim you’re bringing to our city of Rock Island.”

The winning mural art was spray-painted in August on the south side of 313 20th St., Rock Island, of the former Lucky Shamrock bar, done by Jones, 16, in collaboration with professional muralists Dana Harrison (Limone) and Brandon Warner (ASPHATE).

Riley Jones, a Rock Island High junior, stands before her downtown Rock Island mural, “Black Pride,” in August 2021 with U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline).

The new mural is an adaptation of Jones’s artwork originally titled “Black Pride,” which also was displayed at the August unveiling, held by the Quad Cities Chamber and Quad City Arts as part of the Alternating Currents festival. A winner of the 2021 Congressional Art Competition, the original piece was selected by U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline), but has been delayed in being displayed at the U.S. Capitol (due to security and COVID concerns).

Riley and family totally shocked

A member of the National Honor Society, first chair cellist in her high school orchestra, and volunteer at the King Center, Rock Island, Riley said Tuesday she was “completely shocked and a little bit speechless” at getting the rare full scholarship. She and her parents went on a campus tour of Augustana over fall break.

“It’s small and it’s very pretty,” Riley said. “I’d seen it before since my parents went there. They made me aware that it would be a good opportunity. It would be a good option. I haven’t really made an extensive list of colleges, but it’s certainly up there.”

Riley has taken art classes every semester at Rocky, but she wants to keep it a hobby, intending to major in elementary education in college. She said she hopes to stay close to home, so Augie would be a natural.

Her father Jerry (executive director of the MLK Center) said he also was overwhelmed with the good news. He and his wife Kathy (a Korean-American) met on campus in 1989, when he was a junior, and they married in 1994.

They’re not pressuring Riley to attend Augie, but the scholarship could be worth close to a quarter-million by the time she graduates with the class of 2027. “Teachers don’t make that much,” Jones said.

“When you’re a parent, you dream of a moment like this,” the proud papa remarked. “To have it realized, I’m completely gobsmacked, totally overwhelmed. Words fail me.”

Augustana in Rock Island is home to 2,500 students; tuition this school year (not including room and board) is $46,039, and 21 percent of first-year students in fall 2021 are people of color.

When he was in college, Jones was president of the Black Student Union, but it was hard to keep African-Americans on campus, since about a third of incoming Black freshmen would leave for another school within two years, he said. The scholarship for Riley shows the school’s increasing commitment to diversity.

“It’s important to recognize that Augustana is a predominantly white campus and my daughter is bi-racial,” Jones said. “Augustana has done an incredible job to address diversity, equity and inclusion and I’m hoping Riley can contribute to that.”

Emma Adebayo is Augustana’s executive director of admissions.

Abedayo of Augie admissions (who is Black and started her job in July) said that as the national landscape has changed regarding racial and social justice issues, the college wants to be sure to have a campus that’s close to “a microcosm of the world.” The current student body represents 25 countries, and 21 percent of the Augie class of 2025 is comprised of people of color.

Riley embodies the type of student Augustana wants — driven, creative and passionate, Abedayo said, noting 99 percent of all students receive some financial aid.

A Capitol idea for downtown Rock Island

Riley said at the August unveiling that her painting of a young Black man crying represents “being a Black person, seeing us being murdered on the street.”

She came up with the idea in summer 2020, after the George Floyd murder and Black Lives Matter protests, expressing her sadness.

The mural on the building changed and expanded beyond her original work to reflect hope and “continuing on our path and surviving,” she said. Of the two artists she worked with, Riley said she most learned just how to paint with a spray can and would love to do more.

Jones helps cut the ribbon for her mural in August (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“There’s a lot of places,” Bustos told her of potential mural spots. “I’ll tell you what, with your talent, there’s probably a lot of people that would say, hey Riley, give it a try.”

“We’ve been able to choose the best artwork by students from a 14-county, 7,000-square-mile Congressional district,” the Democrat (who’s not running for re-election) said in August. “Think about all the high schools in these 14 counties – 150 towns make up this Congressional district. Every year, we get a number of great pieces of art that are submitted.”

While the public is allowed to vote on the student entries, Bustos judges those that get the most votes. She chose Riley’s piece because she admires art that has a message. “When I saw this, I knew there had to be a story behind this piece of art,” she said.

“We thought if it’s good enough to be in D.C., in the walls of the U.S. Capitol, it’s good enough to be on a wall in downtown Rock Island, on a wall in Riley’s hometown,” Jack Cullen, Downtown Rock Island director for the chamber, said then. “We’re really excited about this project.”

“It’s amazing, because it’s not only supporting a young, talented artist in our community. But it really furthers the conversation around racial equity and racial justice in the Quad-Cities. And it’s part of a larger revitalization project in downtown Rock Island.”

Riley said Tuesday that the scholarship “was a little strange that mostly a sign of pain was turning into something joyful.”

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