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For the 24th consecutive year, USTA Mississippi handed out college scholarships to two deserving high school seniors that have demonstrated excellence both on and off the court.

This year’s winners of the USTA Mississippi College Scholarships are Julianna Jojoa-Portilla of Greenville, and Weston Kennedy of Mize.

Julianna Jojoa-Portilla, a standout student and tennis player from Saint Joseph Catholic High School, is this year’s female winner. Julianna's journey is a testament to her hard work, dedication, and the powerful role tennis has played in her life.

Julianna's love for tennis began at the age of four, playing with her family on community courts with hand-me-down racquets. Over the years, her passion and skill for the sport grew, culminating in numerous accolades. She became her high school's varsity tennis captain as a junior and led her team to victory in the high school Tennis State Championship in 2023.

Beyond the tennis courts, Julianna has excelled academically and demonstrated a strong commitment to her community. In addition to carrying over a 4.0 GPA and being a member of the 30+ ACT Club, she participated in the MIT Introduction to Technology, Engineering, and Science program and was actively involved in the Hugh O'Brian Youth (HOBY) Leadership program. Her dedication to her studies and community service exemplifies her well-rounded character.

Julianna is also a proud member of the Greenville CTA NJTL, a community youth tennis program offering free lessons and leadership programs. Since joining in 2021, she has received training from skilled coaches and the opportunity to partner with other talented players, enriching her tennis journey and personal growth.

Julianna's personal statement reveals the profound impact tennis has had on her life and aspirations. "Tennis taught me self-discipline and confidence, values that have been unmatched in my life. These lessons extended to every aspect of my life, from relationships and school dedication to facing new challenges with courage," she shares. She also highlights the importance of perseverance, saying, "Even on days when I felt unmotivated, I would push myself to the courts, reminding myself that effort is always worthwhile. This mindset led me to win the tiebreaker in the state championship, a moment of accomplishment that I strive for in all my endeavors." Reflecting on the broader impact of the sport, she adds, "Tennis has been my vehicle, teaching me resilience and grounding me in essential life principles. It has become the foundation of who I am, equipping me with the tools and strength to succeed."

Julianna will be attending Mississippi State University in the fall, majoring in Biology/Pre-Med. Inspired by her family's journey and the support of her community, she aspires to become a rural physician, providing accessible and equitable healthcare to underserved communities. Her dream is to one day open a medical facility that offers a variety of specialties, ensuring patients feel accepted and understood.

Julianna's story is one of perseverance, passion, and the transformative power of tennis. We are proud to support her journey and excited to see the remarkable impact she will undoubtedly make in the future.

Weston Kennedy, a dedicated and passionate tennis player from Mize, Mississippi, is this year’s male recipient of the USTA Mississippi College Scholarship. Weston’s journey with tennis began in elementary school, inspired by his older sister, a high school tennis player. He recalls, "I begged her to play. She taught me the basics and I was hooked." His relentless enthusiasm led Coach Joy Schaub to invite him to practice with the high school team in sixth grade, eventually making him the team manager, a role that made him feel significant and included.

Weston’s high school career at Mize High School is marked by consistent dedication and remarkable achievements. Playing #1 Boys Doubles from 9th to 11th grade, he and his partner aimed for the State Championship during his junior year. Despite an undefeated record, they fell short at state, a testament to the fierce competition from larger schools. Reflecting on this experience, Weston shared, "We were heartbroken, of course, that we didn't win and to lose our last match as partners. This did not dampen my love for tennis though!"

In his senior year, Weston transitioned to playing Mixed Doubles and concluded his high school career with a victorious match. His perseverance and love for tennis have shaped him significantly. He expressed, "Tennis gave an insecure kid confidence, and it taught me patience and discipline. It gave me a sense of belonging and the greatest tennis family ever."

Beyond the tennis court, Weston excelled academically, graduating as Valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 GPA and a notable ACT score of 34. He has been honored as a Star Student, MS Scholar, and was inducted into the MHS Hall of Fame. His extracurricular involvement includes leadership roles in the high school band, student council, and Beta Club. Weston also dedicated time to community service, volunteering at the Wolf Pond Animal Sanctuary, participating in Operation Christmas Child, and contributing to local clean-up efforts.

Weston’s commitment to tennis extended to the Laurel Country Club, where he took lessons from Coach Ben Berry and joined the junior USTA team. "My participation at LCC set me up for great success on my high school tennis team," he noted. The relationships he built and the skills he honed during this time have been instrumental in his growth as a player and individual.

As Weston prepares to begin his studies in computer science at the University of Southern Mississippi, he remains dedicated to tennis. While he won’t be part of a college team, his passion for the sport endures. He aspires to create opportunities for young athletes in small towns like his own, hoping to promote tennis and support its growth in Mississippi. "Tennis is now a huge part of my life and I am confident that it will be for many years to come," he remarked. Weston’s story is a testament to how sports can profoundly impact personal development, build community, and inspire future generations.