TonaLaw’s annual Veterans’ Scholarship Program is our firm’s way of showing appreciation to the brave men and women who have served our country. We award $2500 to a selected candidate for the Spring Semester each year.

This year, it is with great pride and enthusiasm that we announce the winner of the Spring 2024 TonaLaw Veterans’ Scholarship Program, Vanessa Vajko. Vanessa is a woman who rose on her own merits out of a challenging start in life to become an exemplary pillar of the community with a powerful desire to give back.

And we at TonaLaw award you this scholarship as our own way of giving back to you. Congratulations, and thank you for your service, Vanessa!

Who Is Vanessa Vajko?

Vanessa Vajko’s story can be described as one of resilience. Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, she grew up against the backdrop of a violent neighborhood in a household absent any motivation for her to pursue academic growth and excellence.

Vanessa’s parents never finished college, and in her words, this “eventually trickled down” to her. There was never any discussion of future aspirations, dreams, or goals, and Vanessa was never pushed to challenge herself academically.

Like most young kids, Vanessa wanted to reach for something, but without any target to reach for, there was little motivation to spend time and energy in the school system.

As a result of these starting circumstances, Vanessa eventually found herself attending a disadvantaged high school rife with delinquent activity, including class-skipping and mistreatment of teachers. There was no clear path to a future career goal, much less to a prestigious college degree, and her motivation dipped continuously throughout her junior and senior years.

“I remember being very jealous of other students who did have parents who tried and who were excited to be going off to college,” Vanessa wrote in response to an interview questionnaire after winning the award. “But my home life was so draining that I let my GPA fall and ended up joining the crowd that skipped class.”Vanessa believes her downward academic spiral could have gotten much worse had the environment remained the same. However, an inner spark prompted her to prove to herself that she could make it on her own.

And, in spite of everything holding her back, by the age of 19, Vanessa chose to join the Navy. This proved to be the change of environment Vanessa needed to set her own goals, which she had lacked for most of her life.

Vanessa’s Transformation Through Experience

As a member of the Armed Forces, Vanessa was able to explore the world, visit places, and meet people she would not have been able to otherwise. During one specific deployment to South America, she had the opportunity to explore Brazil, Peru, and Chile, where she fell in love with a life of freedom and motivation that she had chosen to work toward.

Surrounded by  – in her own words – “strong, independent, motivated, and highly-educated women,” Vanessa finally had the peers and model figures whom she had been missing for most of her life. She witnessed her sisters-in-arms rise through the ranks and eventually pursue college education and other personal dreams.

It was a far cry from the listlessness and emptiness of her childhood, and she knew she never wanted to go back.

A Transition to Nursing: More Than One Way to Serve

Coming home from military service with a newfound drive to put back in the world, Vanessa applied for the Nursing Program at the University of Michigan-Flint, where she would learn to serve the American people in a new way. She had always wanted a meaningful career where she could do something good for others, and this selflessness clicked just fine with the patient-facing nature of nursing.

Nursing requires a level of dedication to the art; in a different but similar vein to the military, lives are on the line when a nurse is on duty. Vanessa recognized that a nurse has to give every aspect of themselves when on the job to keep people alive – a demand that she finds extremely honorable.

“I don’t think there are many jobs out there where someone gets to help humanity in the way that nurses can,” she writes. “I admire that and want to be that.”

Vanessa believes that her military experience gives her unique exposure to trauma among veterans, which she can use to establish stronger empathic connections with patients and allow her to provide better care.

Today, her path to a nursing degree is straightforward and free of the obstacles that held her back as a troubled teen, and TonaLaw hopes to help her along her journey with our Veterans’ Scholarship program.

Winning the TonaLaw Veterans’ Scholarship

Beyond the direct financial benefit that a scholarship provides, Vanessa finds that the TonaLaw Veterans’ Scholarship program will leave a lasting impact on her academic and professional journey.

“I am so grateful for this scholarship! I think it will just lessen the daily stress that I go through to finish my education and keep on pushing on, and any shred of relief counts.”

According to Vanessa, TonaLaw’s scholarship award allows her to focus on her studies and school programs rather than worrying about bills and debt. She also thinks of it as a reminder that we as people are all on a journey together and that helping one another in any small way can be a big step forward for everyone.

With all this in mind, Vanessa has set the simple personal goal of finishing the Spring semester with the scholarship. Her hope is that by working with vulnerable populations across the state, she will be able to gain more clinical experience to help those who need it the most.

What’s Next for Vanessa Vajko?

Vanessa Vajko is an impressive spirit of determination, resilience, and commitment to a cause. This, to us – and we are certain, to many more – made all the more remarkable by her humble beginnings from the rough streets of the South Side of Chicago.

Today, Vanessa is a woman she has built herself into, but what sets her apart is not just the self-made story but the conscious, selfless decision to use everything she has earned to effect positive change for others. Meaningfulness and service are, by all means, more a calling than a choice to Vanessa.

There’s something to be said about a passion that stems from a person’s belief in empathy and care; Vanessa sees nursing as a way to offer calm, support, and hope to those who lack them in their vulnerable moments. Her time in the Navy, part of which was spent abroad on deployments, has given her a broad perspective, a sense of possibility, and a desire to share the same inspiration with those with whom she works.

Time will tell where Vanessa’s journey will take her. And, of course, we at TonaLaw will be rooting for success in all her endeavors she puts her mind to.

We are excited about Vanessa’s future plans. We hope that her story and the positive change and self-determination that it embodies will resonate with those who hear of it, granting the same drive and perseverance to young and troubled kids in the same shoes she once wore.

Are You the Next TonaLaw Veterans’ Scholarship Awardee?

To the brave veterans and active servicemen and servicewomen of our armed forces, we at TonaLaw thank you for fighting for and representing our country. We extend our gratitude to those with the soul that characterizes those who sacrifice so much to preserve our freedoms. 

To Vanessa and other scholarship applicants, we thank you for inspiring not just us but potentially entire generations with your stories of success in the face of adversity. You and your brothers and sisters in arms embody the values for which we established the TonaLaw Veterans’ Scholarship.

To those considering applying, reach out to us today and share your journey, your goals, and your story. Your application is more than paperwork for us to go through; it is a dream a soldier has of home when they return, and we would like to offer what little we can to help you reach that dream.

The TonaLaw Veterans’ Scholarship awards $2500 annually to chosen applicants for the Spring semester. Applications are accepted until the 30th of November, and winners are announced in December.

The program is open exclusively to veterans of any branch of the Armed Forces of the United States currently studying at an accredited school or who will begin studies at an accredited school within six months of the scholarship application.

The program is open to applicants of any race, gender, national origin, and religion. Winners are chosen by a selection committee and are not influenced by any criteria besides the application requirements and the evaluation of the essay submitted by the applicant.

Thank you for your interest, and again, thank you for your service.