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CMR High School student earns U.S. Senate program scholarship

Alec "AJ" Wells, a CMR High School junior
Jamie McGraw, CMR High School principal
Posted at 5:42 PM, Jan 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-31 19:42:11-05

GREAT FALLS — Alec James Wells, a CMR High School junior, is well on his way to mapping out his future. He’s the winner of a $10,000 scholarship. The prestigious award is part of the United States Senate Youth Program. He’ll be on his way to Washington D.C. to spend a week learning how the government works.

Wells, better known as A.J. to friends and family, was at Sam’s Club getting his tires changed when word came that he had been selected for the scholarship.

“I saw that I got an e-mail from the lady who was in charge of it,” said Wells. “It said that it had been released. It didn’t say if I had got it or not. I was like ‘I’m not finding out in Sam’s Club.’ So, I decided to wait until I got home. So, I was with my parents and then that’s when I found out that I got it.”

Alec "AJ" Wells, a CMR High School junior
Alec "AJ" Wells, a CMR High School junior

As part of the honor, he’ll join more than 100 students from across the country for a week in the nation’s capital. He’ll meet the President and spend time with Montana’s two U.S. Senators and get a first-hand look at how government works. He’s hoping the leadership skills he learns will translate back in Big Sky Country.

“I hope to be able to bring this back, what I learn about leadership back to CMR and back to Montana to help our community,” said Wells. “But, I think overall it will be a great experience to go and see where our nation is run.”

The program is fully funded by the Hearst Foundation and has been in operation since 1962. A.J. filled out a comprehensive application, submitted letters of recommendation and even went through a rigorous interview.

Wells is active in and out of school. He’s the C.M.R. Junior class president, maintains outstanding grades, participates in AP classes, participates in track and golf, and volunteers at Benefis Health System.

School leaders say Wells is a natural fit for the scholarship.

“A.J. is not only a great leader and a great athlete in our building, but I think more important than all of those things, he’s a great human being,” said C.M. Russell High School Principal Jamie McGraw. “That’s what makes me incredibly proud, that we’re sending a good human being, and a good student and a good leader to represent not only our school but also our state at the nation’s capital.”

Jamie McGraw, CMR High School principal
Jamie McGraw, CMR High School principal

Wells is the son of Jim and Antionette Wells of Great Falls.

This isn’t the first academic accolade for Wells. In 2020, he was selected for the Ambassador Leadership Summit at Harvard. Even he and his family were a bit caught off guard by the latest honor.

“For the past couple years it’s been mostly seniors that got it,” said Wells. “It’s fairly rare that a junior got it, and it was just really surprising.”

Wells goes to Washington for a week in early March. He will join the likes of U.S. Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeig as having been a part of the program.

He won’t rule out a career in politics, and he’s aiming high with his after-graduation aspirations.

“My goal right now is to hopefully be accepted to a service academy,” said Wells. “I had a cousin who went to the Air Force Academy and ever since I visited there, I’ve just really had an eye out for it and as the years have gone by I’ve been wanting to go even more and I’m hoping to be able to get accepted.”

The other Montana recipient of the scholarship is Missoula Hellgate senior Lily Miller. Alternates are Victoria Newmiller of Choteau High School and Keiran Boyle of Capital High School in Helena.

Click here to learn more about the United States Senate Youth Program.