The 13th Annual Herbert Randolph Kiser Memorial Scholarship

BCC News

BCC congratulates the 2024 winner of the 13th Annual Herbert Randolph Kiser Memorial Scholarship, Ella Vargas!

The Herbert Randolph Kiser Memorial Scholarship was established to help young people realize their full potential. Herbert Randolph "Randy" Kiser was born in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1956.  Randy received the majority of his formal education in the Boston Public Schools and last attended Boston English. In May 1974, Randy was returning home from work when he was approached by two young men on Gallivan Boulevard near Neponset Circle in Dorchester.  Randy’s life was taken as a result of a racially motivated attack.

The scholarship was established for the singular purpose of helping a young person realize their full potential since Randy is unable to realize his. Recipient(s) are graduating Boston Children's Chorus seniors who are bound for college, who are civically engaged, and who have demonstrated a commitment to diversity and the well-being of humanity. 

This year, one Herbert Randolph Kiser Memorial Scholarship was given to Ella Vargas and received $10,000. 

Ella Vargas

Prompt: Reflect on your most proud accomplishment at BCC. How did it change you and others around you?

My Turn

Heart tensing, mind racing, it was my turn to try. The day before my first BCC finale concert ten years ago my conductor pulled me aside to evaluate my musical skills.

“Are you comfortable singing ‘Give Us Hope?’” she asked me sweetly.

“Umm…yeah,” I replied shakily. I tried to sing, but the noise that came out sounded more like a dying frog than an eight-year-old girl. Tears welled up in my eyes.

“How about ‘We Sing?’” she then suggested.

I took a deep breath, but I couldn’t produce a more pleasant sound than I made earlier. I was able to sing BCC’s anthem with others, yet on my own I was overcome by self-doubt.

Despite the challenge of my first evaluation, I continued with BCC, motivated by the older singers who seemed to perform without any fear, as if no one– no matter how hard they tried– could stop them from expressing their important messages. I longed to be just like them.

During my three years in the Central Intermediate Advanced (CIA) choir, I became closer to my fellow BCC singers than I had been to any other group of people in my life. I delved into music theory, learning how to harmonize and read sheet music. I became more aware of the social tension in my various circles and in the United States as a whole. I heightened my understanding of the intersection between community, music, and activism. In CIA, I traveled to Princeton and later Washington, DC to take part in the Three Trebles Festival. We made music with singers from those areas and had many moments that brought us closer together. One such moment was when we sang U2's "MLK" in front of the MLK Memorial, feeling profoundly connected to our values and to the Civil Rights activist we honored each year at Symphony Hall.

During my last year in CIA, I took part in an opera called I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams. After a year of learning, rehearsing, and memorizing our part in the opera, CIA supported a professional cast to share a story that juxtaposed the fantasies of the American dream with the complex reality of being an immigrant in this country. The performance involved choreography, difficult harmonies, and an understanding of shifting time signatures. Through BCC, I discovered that in order to get a message across, and in order to make change, risks must be taken. The more musical risks I took, the more I felt comfortable taking risks in other areas of my life. I learned to ask for help when I needed it. I spoke freely about my opinions, even when I knew others would disagree with me.

Heart tensing, mind racing, it was my turn to speak. My town’s school committee had called a special meeting to consider changing the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. As someone biracial, bisexual, and female, I empathize when the experiences of marginalized groups are ignored. At BCC rehearsals, I hardly ever feel out of place, but in my town, I feel othered on a daily basis. When I learned about the meeting that could change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the official school calendar, I was eager to share my voice and dispel a harmful myth. Many in the packed audience held conservative values. Even still, I stood my ground and delivered a passionate speech sharing my truth and challenging the false narrative that perpetuates harm against all people of color.

After hours of tense deliberation, it was ultimately decided that Columbus Day would be changed to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in my town. Many claimed that the decision was significantly swayed by my advocacy. Changing the name of the October holiday was a small but important victory, a step toward improving cultural awareness in my community and others surrounding us.

I gained the ability to speak in front of large audiences as I grew more confident as a musician and activist in BCC. It is thanks to BCC that I felt comfortable speaking my mind. It is thanks to BCC that I now dare to sing alone.

Heart tensing, mind racing, it was my turn to sing. At a recent global warming protest, I led a group of my BCC friends in singing "Somebody's Hurting my Brother." We learned the song from Reverend Mariama White Hammond, a passionate leader in the field of environmental justice in Boston. The song is a call to action that highlights inequities faced by communities of color. As a Latina and climate activist, this moment reflected the most important aspects of my identity. Once other protesters joined in, I felt stronger than I ever had before. As our cries echoed throughout the city, I grew awed by the power of people leading and supporting one another.

At a young age I discovered the dangers of the climate emergency, and I have been motivated to help solve this issue ever since. After graduating from Smith College and eventually graduate school as well, my goal is to become an engineer to develop solutions to environmental problems. I plan to focus on marginalized communities–the groups of people who are most directly impacted by climate change.

Heart tensing, mind racing, it is my turn to act. I will continue standing up and singing out for justice. The world is troubled, but I leave BCC no longer a timid child. I have grown into a proud woman with the power to make change.

Watch the scholarship announcement at our season finale concert!

Prior Scholarship Recipients

  • Jillian Baker
  • Allyssa Almeida
  • Sabrina Marzouki
  • Kevin Chan
  • Nafisa Wara
  • Jessie Rubin
  • Ana Mejia
  • Emmaline Dillon
  • David Blitzman
  • Leo Kotomori
  • Alex Lee-Papstavros
  • Carrie Shao
  • Austin Moore
  • Sophia Bereaud
  • Hal Cox 
  • Matthew Auguste
  • Elizabeth Rozmanith
  • Shantel Teixeira
  • Branden Garcia
  • Grace Wagner
  • Abigail Gauch
  • Neha Saravanan
  • Erica Weinreich
  • Simone Isabelle
  • Jillian Ryan
  • Rory Li

About Herbert Randolph Kiser

Herbert Randolph Kiser was born in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1956.  Herbert, affectionately called Randy by his family and friends, received the majority of his formal education in the Boston Public Schools and last attended Boston English.  

On May 15, 1974, Randy was returning home from work when a car occupied by two young men approached him on Gallivan Boulevard in Dorchester. One of the young men exited the vehicle and a brief altercation ensued. 

Most, unfortunately, Randy’s life was then taken. 

The young man shared that it was solely out of racial hatred that he ended Randy's life. Randy was 18 years old at the time. 

The Herbert Randolph Kiser Memorial Scholarship was established for the singular purpose of helping a young person to realize their full potential since Randy was unable to realize his.

The annual scholarship was founded in 2006.

Randy was raised in a family that believes fervently in the value of all people.  Believing deeply in the mission of the BCC organization, the scholarship chose BCC as its home in 2012. 

Since then, 26 graduating seniors have received scholarships, totaling more than $91,000. 

Past Scholarship recipients have attended or are currently attending such colleges and universities as The University of Southern California, Norte Dame, Ithaca College, Elon, Clark, UMASS, Harvard, Boston University, Berklee College of Music, Northeastern University, Johns Hopkins, and more. 

Randy's family is committed to social justice, fairness, inclusion, diversity in all of its forms, and supporting all efforts in support of peace and reconciliation in society.