Awarded through the Ray Wolpow Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity, the Kohlmeier-Mikulencak Scholarship has an important mission: to reward a student who possesses not only strong moral courage, but someone who stands up for an individual or group in the face of great opposition. The ideal recipient is someone who is not afraid to face the consequences of speaking out despite intense pressure to stay silent.
Bernhard Kohlmeier has an intense interest in ensuring that future generations learn the most important lessons from the Holocaust and make a difference in the lives of others. His parents were children in Nazi Germany, and educated in Nazi-controlled schools. “They were indoctrinated every single day.” That indoctrination colored Kohlmeier’s experience growing up—the casual prejudices, the insistence that it wasn’t “all that bad” and instilled in him a need to see that indoctrination broken. He and his wife Lisa Ann Mikulencak established this scholarship because, “If you have a generation who aren’t critical about their circumstances, they pass it on.”
Awarded in honor of Arthur Poznanski, a Holocaust survivor, the scholarship is for someone who embodies Poznanski’s tremendous spirit. Poznanski was a teenager in Nazi Germany, wounded while escaping a train to a death camp, saved by the fortuitous placement of a spoon in a pocket, and lived in the U.K. dedicating his life to his community and to educating youth about discrimination and bigotry.
Kohlmeier discovered Poznanski’s story through a coworker, Arthur Poznanski’s son, Victor. “We went out for a walk and talked about many things. He told me about his dad and said he had never told anyone at work the story.” Moved by Victor’s story, Kohlmeier asked him if they could dedicate this year’s scholarship to Arthur. This scholarship is for someone exactly like Courtney Hoku Rivera.
When Rivera stepped up to the microphone on March 24 at the March for Our Lives rally, she looked out at the 3,000 parents, friends, high school students, fellow Western students, and community leaders who came out despite the drizzle knowing she had done well. As part of the leadership organizing the march along with her friend Maddie Rackers, she had connected with community groups, spoken at meetings, organized volunteers, and was the media contact for the march. After the passionate speeches ended, after she spoke about her own desire to see the end of gun violence, and after she marched, Rivera sang, “We Shall Overcome.”
A major in creative writing and anthropology, Rivera said, “Receiving the Kohlmeier-Mikulencak scholarship has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders. I can now afford a study abroad program in Senegal this winter and have my money go toward tuition. I don’t have to worry about financial aid and balancing work with extracurricular activities. The scholarship has also connected me better with the work of the Ray Wolpow Institute, and I see so many opportunities for collaboration with them and other groups on campus.”
Is it daunting for Rivera to receive a scholarship with so much weighty history attached? “I feel a sense of responsibility, but I’m not daunted. No, daunted isn’t the right word. The right word is inspired.”