Skyla Degrasse

Skyla Degrasse (center), a 17-year-old from Hammond, won the first of nine $100,000 scholarships. Screenshot from Shot at a Million video

A year spent taking classes over Zoom and watching TV news about COVID cases ticking up, down and up again left Skyla Degrasse with a sense of conviction. She would become a doctor, she decided last year, so that when a new pandemic appears she’ll be able to confront the crisis head-on.

“I like to help people in general,” the Hammond High School senior said in a phone call Friday. “I’d do anything to lend a helping hand in that situation.”

There was one problem: Degrasse’s family would have been unable to foot the bill demanded by most undergraduate medical programs, her mother Sandra said. With few choices, the 17-year-old planned on enrolling at Northshore Technical Community College in her hometown.

Skyla’s options dramatically multiplied Wednesday when her mom got a call from the Louisiana Department of Health.

The caller said Skyla had just been named a winner in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ “shot at a million” vaccination lottery, awarding her a $100,000 college scholarship — enough to send the aspiring doctor to an undergraduate medical school next fall.

“She wouldn’t be going to any kind of university if she didn’t win this scholarship,” Sandra Degrasse said. “And then this comes along, and it’s like, wow, she can go wherever she wants.”

LDH and Edwards’ office on Friday announced Degrasse as one of the first pair of weekly sweepstakes winners. The other, 80-year-old Clement Desalla, of New Orleans, took home $100,000.

Offering a combined $2.3 million in prizes allocated from federal pandemic relief dollars, the campaign’s goal is to encourage people in the second-least-inoculated state in the country to get vaccinated as the more transmissible delta variant takes hold.

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Each of the next four weeks will feature two giveaways: a scholarship and a cash prize valued at $100,000 each. The final drawing — scheduled for Aug. 6 — will include a $1 million jackpot and five $100,000 scholarships.

Degrasse called the scholarship an unexpected blessing, saying she would have gotten vaccinated even without the extra incentive.

“Having to do school virtually, that was really the number one thing that made me want to get vaccinated,” Skyla said. “That, and making me want to go into the medical field to help in these kinds of crises.”

The family had already gotten their shots when the sweepstakes were announced. They “were going to do it anyway, and this is an added bonus,” Sandra Degrasse said.

A science lover who counts biology among her favorite subjects at Hammond High, Skyla said she hopes the scholarship could send her to Southeastern Louisiana University — or maybe somewhere farther from home, like Ohio State University, which houses a renowned medical school.

“This has helped me a lot,” she said, “and I’m so thankful.”

Louisianans who have received at least one dose of the vaccine can enter the lottery by visiting the website, or by calling (877) 356-1511.

James Finn writes for The Advocate as a Report For America corps member. Email him at or follow him on Twitter @RJamesFinn.

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