Julie Canuto-Depina delivers an acceptance speech at the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship banquet. (Photos by Caitlin Cunningham)

Julie Canuto-Depina: servant leader, advocate

Meet this year's winner of BC's Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship

Connell School of Nursing student Julie Canuto-Depina, who hopes to address the social determinants of health as a nurse after graduation, is this year’s winner of Boston College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship. She received the award from University President William P. Leahy, S.J., at the 42nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Banquet held on campus February 19.

The scholarship, which provides for up to $35,000 toward senior year tuition, recognizes a Boston College junior who has demonstrated superior academic achievement, extracurricular leadership, community service, and involvement with the African American community and African American issues. The winner also receives a $1,000 gift certificate to the Boston College Bookstore.

“One of MLK’s quotes that speaks volumes to me is ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?,” said Canuto-Depina. “I have realized that the capacities, abilities, skills, knowledge, level of advocacy, compassion, resilience, and hope God has blessed me with are not meant for me to keep to myself but rather to use as tools to build up my brothers and sisters, to advocate for my patients and move towards a more just society.

“I want to use my knowledge and start conversations that serve my patients. Sometimes nurses get caught up in the clinical aspect of care for patients and forget about social determinants of health. Maybe a lack of transportation is interfering with a patient being able to access fresh vegetables or medication, for example. I want to see things through the lens of my patients and be their advocate.”

February 19, 2024 -- Boston College's 42nd annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Awards banquet, held in the Murray Room. The award is presented to an outstanding member of the Class of 2025. The nominees were Tracy Aggrey-Ansong, Joy Babalola, Julie Canuto-Depina, Temidayo Lukan, and Esther Udoakang. Julie Canuto-Depina was the award recipient.

Canuto-Depina is congratulated for winning BC's 2024 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship.

Canuto-Depina, who grew up in Brockton, Mass., is a first-generation college student whose parents came to the U.S. from Cape Verde. She recalls discovering BC’s Cape Verdean Student Association at the Involvement Fair during her first semester at BC: “I was amazed to find a CVSA table. Cape Verde is so small. I was at a predominantly white institution and there was a club about my culture!

“That club has brought me so much joy,” continued Canuto-Depina, who serves as the CVSA secretary. “To gather with those who share the same language and same food as me gives a sense of home away from home. It has also given me an outlet to express myself and draw people in to know more about my culture.”

An intern with the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center, Canuto-Depina credits the BAIC and Montserrat program for the support they have given her.

“Montserrat has been a huge support for me since stepping foot on BC's campus. I've been able to grow my confidence knowing that my financial circumstances will not stop me from maximizing my time at BC or taking advantage of opportunities that come before me.”

Canuto-Depina serves a Montserrat student ambassador, and is excited, she said, to offer new students the sense of a community and welcome she first received from the program. She has also participated in two of Montserrat’s Jamaica Magis Service Trips, most recently as a student leader.

“The Magis Service Trip was one of the most amazing experiences I've had so far in my life. Even though we prepare a lot for the trip, how much it touched me was unexpected. I got a new understanding of what service means, and it is being one with others. Service is love, it's being present, it's teamwork, regardless of differences.”

“What I admire most about Julie is that she is always empowered by her overlapping identities…Options Through Education scholar, first-generation student, Montserrat student, Black, and woman,” said African and African Diaspora Studies Program Assistant Director Richard Paul. “She uses any benefits/opportunities derived from those identities to either help others directly or indirectly through awareness.”

Canuto-Depina was especially glad to have her mother with her at the ceremony when her named was called as the scholarship winner. “The first person to rush to me and give me a hug was my mom. She didn't have the opportunity to continue school. Part of what motivates me and pushes me is knowing I have the opportunities she did not have. It was so precious to share that special moment with her.”

Canuto-Depina led the banquet audience in a prayer of thanksgiving when was at the podium.

“For me, winning that scholarship was a testimony of my faith in God. It reminded me that this is yet another blessing and fruit that has come out of my journey and having faith and trusting in God. He has worked through me to be able to be in a position to advocate for my community members and to be a nurse who advocates for her patients.”

The ceremony also included a keynote speech by University of Rochester Assistant Professor Philip McHarris ’14, who received the MLK Jr. Scholarship in 2013.

Learn about the other finalists for the 2024 MLK Jr. Scholarship here.