The meteoric celebrity rise of a 47-year old church volunteer to online sensation lends credence that there are many diamonds in the rough waiting to be discovered. Much as Susan Boyle inspired the world last week by defying an unsuspecting talent show audience and its snarky judges, I meet students each year who despite amazing obstacles before them are able to achieve admission to a research university, and then piece together enough financial resources to actually attend.
Each April, I work with a team of scholarship application reviewers to identify 100 students in need of assistance to attend college. Most people never know the challenges these students surpass on their quest for an education. They are frequently the caregiver of younger siblings while mom or dad work extra jobs to make ends meet, giving up basketball or the debate club for family needs. They have faced catastrophic illnesses or disability, including cancer or the loss of a limb. They have survived the death of a parent, and sometimes both. They have overcome losing homes to flood, tornado, fire or financial difficulties. They have witnessed the tragedy of family substance abusers in all forms.
Here is an excerpt from one essay I featured in a discussion of college students in poverty.
Neither one of my parents went to college, nor did they graduate from high school. My mother had me five days after her 16th birthday. My dad is a laborer, so he never made much money. I have a brother four years younger than me; somehow we still had a childhood. Then the major problems started. My parents were both alcoholics and battled drug addiction with my dad ending up in jail. My brother and I both were taken from our parents and put into a foster home. Luckily we were allowed to move in with our grandmother, but with no steady income, we were moved to another foster home. Then we were again sent to live with our parents. Somehow dad went to jail again and then we moved in with our other grandparents. When dad got out, he came to find my mom and us. Together, their addictions got worse and it broke off our relationships with nearly everyone. Mom left and dad struggled to keep the up with rent at a house we got next to our grandparents. Dad got drunk just about everyday. I was forced to take care of my new one-year old sister. I remember missing a week of school to stay home and watch her since she was too sick to go to daycare and dad wouldn’t stay home. I still kept my grades up and took honor classes that year. I didn’t have one grade lower than a B. Mom came back to live with us, and all was good, until one night. Dad pushed mom and I jumped up and ran into the room to break up his actions. I was scared of him my whole life and now I stood up to him and was ready to take him on. I stopped dad from doing any more and I got my little sister. The cops were called and both of my parents were arrested that night. I made the decision to move back to our grandparents with my siblings.
Just like an unassuming woman from Blackburn, Scotland can rocket from obscurity to the headlines, I observe average students with little on their resume succeed in a college system that values star athletes and student council presidents. I watch as these students sometimes shine, sometimes stumble on the way to college graduation, amazing me with their ability, tenaciousness, and resiliency. I have seen them become teachers, college professors, attorneys, business owners, and engineers, whatever they set out to become. They remind me each year to always keep an eye on the underdogs as they frequently outclass their faster and flashier peers.
For many of the great, great successes of the world, the background they came from was their great challenge. I’m trying to find those people. Those who may not have the highest grade point or a perfect family background, but who can be successful. These are the ones who will lend the helping hands in the future.
~ Christina Hixson
Who is the next great talent on your campus? What have you done for them lately?