Florida State University’s Unconquered Scholars banquet: A time to celebrate student resilience

Members of the Unconquered Scholars Program who are graduating pose for a group photo with Assistant Director Caitlin Cates, left, during the annual Unconquered Scholars Program Awareness Banquet on April 8, 2024. (Brittany Mobley, Undergraduate Studies)

When Conqualla Scott was just 4 years old, she thought it was “normal” to shower in the restrooms of a community college and stand outside a store on the weekends asking people for money. 

 She’s come a long way since those early childhood days, battling homelessness under her grandmother’s care. 

A Florida State University senior earning her degree in social work, Scott served as the keynote speaker during FSU’s annual Unconquered Scholars Program Awareness Banquet Monday, April 8, celebrating those in the program and their supporters and honoring the 37 Unconquered students who are graduating this year. 

 The Unconquered Scholars Program supports students who have experienced homelessness, foster care, relative care or ward of the state status. It’s a unit within the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement, or CARE, which provides opportunity and access to those with identities traditionally underrepresented in higher education, such as Pell Grant recipients and first-generation college students. 

Scott spoke poignantly about her childhood in Tallahassee, being raised by her grandmother as her father tackled challenges after immigrating from Nigeria and her mother struggled with mental health. 

Although her family dealt with financial hardship and at one point lived in a small trailer with too many relatives crammed into a small space, Scott’s grandmother encouraged her to work hard in school, which eventually earned her admission to FSU and support from the Unconquered Scholars Program.  

“I cannot describe the immense joy I had after reading the word ‘congratulations,’” she said. “I realized at that moment I had a chance. I would be the first to earn an education. I would be the example and set the standard.” 

Conqualla Scott shares her story during FSU’s annual Unconquered Scholars Program Awareness Banquet on April 8, 2024. (Brittany Mobley, Undergraduate Studies)

Scott’s is one of many stories of resilience and strength that come from the Unconquered Scholars Program, which began in 2012 and has since served nearly 400 students.  

Assistant Director of the Unconquered Scholars Program Caitlin Cates said the banquet was a chance to celebrate not only those who are graduating but also the rest of the current scholars who are one year closer to earning a degree. 

“This event highlights all their hard work, dedication and commitment to the goals they’re currently working toward and the future they’re working to build,” Cates said. 

The program helps students thrive in college and succeed academically, providing them with one-on-one advising, college life coaching, financial aid assistance, tutoring, study skills workshops and more.   

Many Unconquered Scholars participate in the Summer Bridge Program, which welcomes them to campus before the fall semester and prepares them for the rigor of school.  

Additional bonding opportunities help them build community, such as group trips to other Florida locations, often funded by private donors. They take a trip to Orlando theme parks every year during the on-campus Family Weekend, and this year they went to St. Augustine for spring break for the first time, thanks to a gift from supporters Stephen and Yvonne Brown. 

“Joining Unconquered was one of the greatest things I have done at my time at FSU,” said student Joseph Dominguez during remarks he made at the banquet. “This program is more than just support; it is a family. The friendships I have made in the program have made me the person you see before you, and I am ever grateful for the opportunities this program has presented me.”  

For more information about the Unconquered Scholars Program and CARE, visit care.fsu.edu.

Student Kimasia Ayers crosses the stage after receiving commemorative items during the Unconquered Scholars Program Awareness Banquet on April 8, 2024. (Brittany Mobley, Undergraduate Studies)