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Suns surprise Central High School student with scholarship to NAU

The Phoenix Suns partnered with Helios Education Foundation to award Central High School senior Paaij Smith with a full scholarship to Northern Arizona University on Tuesday.

Smith was expecting to sign some paperwork regarding her graduation later this spring but was surprised by cheers from her classmates, Suns president and CEO Jason Rowley, and members of Phoenix Suns Charities.

“This scholarship is really important to me,” Smith said in a video provided by the Suns. “Without a scholarship, higher education was more on the slimmer side of chance. So I’m really happy that I got a scholarship and I can pursue my dreams all the way.”

Smith wasn’t the only one taken by surprise. Her mother got to experience the presentation of the award to her daughter.

“She’s amazing, and it made it more real for me that she was so emotional,” Smith said. “The surprise was such a shock. I couldn’t really get all my emotions out. So I’m really happy that she was able to experience this in a great way.”

Having the opportunity to award Smith with a chance to pursue a college education was something that was important to the Suns as an organization, according to Rowley.

“For us to be able to give back to the community to be able to really enhance somebody’s educational opportunities,” Rowley said. “Not just to do it for one year, but be able to provide that stability of a four-year full-tuition scholarship is something that’s very important to us. … It’s an exciting day. Life-changing for Paaij and obviously for everybody who’s involved in this special moment as well.”

Smith played varsity basketball at Central High School and plans to pursue a career in the medical field as a physician’s assistant.


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