BILLINGS — Ask anybody at Billings Central High School about sophomore Hank Jagodzinski, and you’ll hear every superlative in the book: brilliant, driven, the ideal classmate and student who will no doubt have numerous scholarship opportunities.
But he might not need any more, because two weeks ago, a new initiative offered to fund him for life.
"I don’t think I’ll be able to grasp that for a while," Jagodzinski admitted. "They're not investing in just one project. They're investing in me as a person."
The concept is almost unheard of - a scholarship that never ends. The initiative is called Rise. Its goal? Find the world’s next generation of leaders.
"They are willing to put a lot of trust in young people, which isn’t always the case," Jagodzinski said.
Out of tens of thousands of applicants, Hank is one of 100 global winners. His perks include a full four-year scholarship at any accredited university, new technology every year, and maybe most importantly, the ability to apply for funding for any idea he comes up with to positively change the world for the rest of his life.
His first? Jumpstarting middle and high school journalism in Montana.
"I wanted to do something achievable," Jagodzinski said. "The friend who told me about RISE talked about the youth impact on climate change, and I think that's a very worthwhile endeavor. But I wanted to do something where I could see concrete results.
"I think student journalism is not political. It's not divisive, and I can make results in my own way."
Hank polled every Class AA district in Montana and received disappointing responses.
"Only 30% of the schools had a newspaper or similar journalistic publication," he said.
After spearheading the St. Francis Middle Schools paper four years ago and continuing that at the BC Chronicle now, Hank is writing worksheets, how-to’s and best practices from every source he can find.
"You'll find them in the most random places," he said. "You’ve got to search the right keywords, and all of a sudden some obscure handbook from a middle school in Nebraska pops up that has some really helpful tips."
It's all to help an industry - and possibly, a generation - that needs it.
"I want students to be able to experience what journalism is like, to open their eyes beyond social media," Jagodzinski said. "I think a lot of us are stuck in scrolling through Twitter feeds or Instagram or mindlessly watching videos on TikTok.
"It's pretty stunning to see the decline in local content at most Montana newspapers," he continued. "It’s a lot of (Associated Press) content. There's too many stories in a city especially Billings size for the staff that local media outlets have, and so there's a lot of stories that go untold."
But not this one, and we can’t wait for Volume 2.