Allie Linkous, 17, walked out her front door Friday and stood on the porch, staring at a crowd.
Congratulatory signs decorated the sides of slowly rolling cars and SUVs driving past her Gulf Breeze home with horns honking. Around 20 people stood in the yard and 12 more jockeyed for better views on top of flowerbeds — almost all of them wearing blue and green.
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Those are the school colors for the University of West Florida, and the commotion Friday stemmed from Linkous winning a full-ride scholarship to the school.
Over the past week, UWF has congratulated seven local students awarded full-ride scholarships with drive-by parades at their homes. Linkous was the final stop on UWF's "caravan campaign."
UWF offers two full-ride scholarships, the Pace Presidential Scholarship and the Argo Spirit Scholarship, which both provide more than $50,000 toward students' tuition and living expenses. The scholarships cover the cost of tuition, housing and books for four years, when combined with funds from Florida Bright Futures and certain recipients' Pell grants.
Linkous learned she won a Pace Presidential Scholarship in February. And she had a strong suspicion that something was going to happen in her honor Friday morning.
"My mom said, 'You should clear your calendar on this day and this time’ and 'Dress nice and look pretty,'" she said. "And I was like, 'OK, I wonder what’s happening.' And I was like 'How should I dress?' And she said, 'Well there are going to be cameras. So dress for cameras.'"
Still, Linkous never expected she would have a parade thrown in her honor or that the president of her university of choice would be standing on her lawn.
Horns from the caravan were still blaring when UWF President Martha Saunders stepped out of the crowd toward Linkous.
"Hey there," she said. "I’m Martha Saunders, and I am the president of the University of West Florida."
Applause, soaked in school spirit, erupted.
"And I know that this year has not gone exactly like you planned, but we did not want any time to go by without honoring you for winning a Pace Scholarship," Saunders said. "We had hundreds of students across the state competed for that scholarship, and you were one of five (who won)."
Saunders later explained that UWF set up the caravan after the COVID-19 pandemic prevented traditional celebrations at high schools.
"It's such a strange time, and we can’t do the things that we usually do," Saunders said. "So we’re trying to do things that are still special, and as a matter of fact, I think that it is even more special because the students aren’t getting to have their award ceremonies that they have at their high school. Had that happened, she would have been one of many and now she is one of a kind."
Linkous hopes her scholarship will enable her to pursue a years-long desire to study abroad in Wales.
"I’ve really wanted to study abroad since I was a kid," she said. "I really want to be able to explore and like, get that feel, and they have a really cool university in Wales that is based on medicine. I want to go into the medical field. So hopefully this will help me get that because money has always been an issue going into college.”
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8680.