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Originally published: 2012-06-27 11:46:01
Last modified: 2012-06-27 11:51:20

Highland Games scholarship program assists more than 100 Avery students

Justin Grimes / (averyjournalist@gmail.com)

The world-famous Grandfather Mountain Highland Games is a force for the future, making a difference in the lives of Avery Country students through the Games’ ongoing scholarship program.
As a nonprofit organization, part of GMHG’s mission is to provide college scholarships to Avery County High School graduates who attend American colleges and universities. Avery students have been receiving the scholarships since 1986. Each year, on average, five to six students receive four-year scholarships.
Each scholarship recipient contacted praised the Games while expressing their gratitude for the financial support. Several shared their youthful experiences of also of working at, or as one said, “growing up with the Games.”
Many of the students have returned to the community after graduation. “I graduated this past May from North Carolina State University with a degree in agricultural education and a minor in horticultural science,” said 21-year-old Olivia Watson. “I am currently looking for a job to be a high school agriculture teacher.
“The best part about this scholarship was that it was renewable each year that I was in school as long as I kept my grades up. A lot of the other scholarships I received when I graduated high school were for one year. I could rely on this scholarship each year to help me with my financial burden and that meant a lot to me,” Watson concluded.
Josh Aldridge, 26, is back in Avery, too, after graduating from N.C. State in political science. “The scholarship was a relief, paying for school. It’s a great thing the Games do, giving back to the community through its nonprofit work,” Aldridge added. Josh’s younger brother Dylan, 20, is a scholarship winner as well and is presently studying sport’s management and business at N.C. State.

From his home in Edinburgh, Scotland, co-founder of the Games, Donald MacDonald, 86, said, “It's gratifying to realize that the success of the GMHG has been of benefit to the annual Avery High School scholarship program, helping local young people to achieve the success that they deserve.
“Over the years, of course, the great success of the Games has been due to the devotion, the skill, the loyalty and to the year-round hard work of a kind of 'army' of home folks in Avery County,” MacDonald continued. “It's really great to know that local people, I mean the 'native locals,’ under the leadership of Frank Vance, are putting on a show that has become known in Scotland and in many other parts of the entire world.”
Both MacDonald and Vance are excited about the airing of an upcoming documentary program about the Games and both are hoping that Avery County residents will tune in.
“I dearly wish that not just the year-round citizens of Avery but the summer-time-only residents of Linville as well will realize that the Grandfather Games are so important that the world-famous British Broadcasting Company, the BBC out of London, has just completed editing and producing a nationwide TV program on the Grandfather Games,” MacDonald said.
The program is narrated by the Scottish actor Bill Paterson and is scheduled to air on BBC on Sunday, July 8.
“Since I first suggested Highland Games to Mrs. Agnes Morton in 1956, the event has moved from strength to strength. It is now so successful, and is so well known over here in Scotland; I swell with pride when I realize that Mrs. Morton and I were the ‘inventors’ of something that neither of us ever realized would become so big and so well attended,” MacDonald said. 
The 57th annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and gathering of Scottish clans is expected to attract around 30,000 visitors to the High Country: Thursday through Sunday, July 12 to 15.
The Games begin Thursday afternoon, July 12, with a sheep dog demonstration, Celtic entertainment, the running of “The Bear” and the opening ceremonies.
The opening ceremonies begin at dusk with a torchlight ceremony where representatives of each of the 80 clans and 15 societies announce their family’s participation in the gathering. This “raising of the clans” proclaims that they have once again come together to celebrate their heritage.
And for the community of Linville and Avery County, the Games represent, in a way, the culminating efforts of a family whose legacy is steeped in the tradition of philanthropy.
In a brochure of the MacRae family’s newly formed Linville Improvement Company, circa 1890, the mission of the company was stated as being to build a community that was appealing and served its residents and visitors; hoping to create schools, libraries and museums.
Through the Game’s annual scholarships, the spirit of the Linville Improvement Company lives on.
For more information about the Games, click to http://www.gmhg.org.