Coca-Cola semifinalist has a thirst for helping others


Of more than 103,000 applicants in the 2023-24 Coca-Cola Scholars Program, barely 1% advanced to the semifinalist round and Wantagh High School senior James Tullo was one. Only 1,514 students nationwide received the honor and will now compete for 150 scholarships.

The Coca-Cola Scholars Program recognizes seniors for outstanding leadership, academic achievements and dedication to the community. James is a junior ambassador and volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions, a Long Island-based organization that provides service dogs to veterans and people with disabilities. Since his work with Canine Companions has begun, James has already trained two dogs, Harper and Nutmeg, the latter completed this past summer. The training process takes about a year per puppy,

“I like volunteering with the dogs,” he said. “Just to see the impact you have is incredible,”

The proudest moment for him is seeing his dogs matriculate, which means they are ready to be paired with a person in need of a service animal. James was in eighth grade and volunteering at an animal adoption event when he met a veteran with a service dog, and that inspired him to take his work further.

At school, James is taking several college-level courses as a senior. His interests span all areas of the curriculum from business to culinary arts to history. He is a four-year member of the varsity tennis team, the Italian trustee for the World Language Honor Society and a member of Health Occupants Students of America. After high school, he wants to attend a local college with aspirations to become a physical therapist.

James, who attended Forest Lake Elementary School, had to describe himself in 10 words or less for his initial entry into the Coca-Cola Scholars Program. Now that he is a semifinalist, the next round will be more rigorous, as he will have to submit an essay, his high school transcript and provide detailed information about his volunteer work.

“Just to be a semifinalist, it’s amazing,” he said. “I’m so grateful and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”