Feb. 16, 2021 By Michael Dorgan
Applications are now being accepted for a scholarship program that was set up to honor the life of a boy with autism who tragically drowned more than seven years ago.
The annual scholarship was established in 2016 and is named after Avonte Oquendo, who disappeared after he wandered away from Riverview School in Long Island City in October 2013. The 14-year-old’s remains were found washed up on the Queens side of the East River more than four months later.
The Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship awards $5,000 to a student on the autism spectrum to pursue higher education. Students who have a close family member with autism can also apply.
The scholarship was created by The Perecman Firm, a New York City-based law firm that represented Oquendo’s mother in a wrongful death suit she filed against the city following her son’s untimely passing. The city settled the case for $2.7 million.
David Perecman, the founder of The Perecman Firm, said that the scholarship has had a major impact on the lives of former recipients.
“We want higher education opportunities to be accessible to all students, especially those who have autism and often face obstacles that other students do not,” Perecman said in a statement.
“As an attorney, I’ve seen how higher education is not only a tool for personal development but also a means by which individuals can better their own lives and ultimately shape and improve their communities.”
The Perecman Firm also helped Oquendo’s family advocate for the passage of “Avonte’s Law,” which became law in 2014. The law aims to prevent students with autism and special needs – that are attending city schools – from wandering off.
Under the legislation, the Department of Education is required to evaluate the need for alarms on the exterior doors of elementary schools and schools serving students with special needs.
Applicants for the scholarship are required to submit an essay describing a time when they had to overcome an obstacle as a person with autism or how their loved one’s autism affected them. The essay must be between 500 and 1,000 words long.
Applicants must be enrolled at an accredited college, university, or vocational school, or be accepted to begin studies at such an institution.
The deadline for scholarship applications is July 31. Applications can be made by clicking here.