Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you tonight and to represent my fellow scholarship recipients. Being awarded the Florida Executive Women’s scholarship has been an enriching experience and a very beautiful part of a long journey. Tonight, I would like to talk about that journey and the dreams that have come to pass along the way.
If I were to describe my educational journey, I would have to use two words: gratitude and hope. Romans 5:3-5 states, “… we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed …”
I am grateful to have been blessed with many tribulations that have provided me with experience, knowledge in life, patience, understanding, faith, and, most importantly, hope. Because of hope, I have learned how to love my family and my friends, and to look deeper than what is on the surface of people around me. I’ve even learned to love my life and myself.
Childhood wasn’t easy. We never had much money, so I began working at the age of 13, cleaning classrooms after school. I worked at my high school for a short period and then got a job at the local ice rink, because I enjoyed figure skating. It kept me out of trouble, and I would work to have money to eat and to skate. Sometimes I’d help with the water bill, food for the house, the power bill, or whatever I could.
Even though no one ever told me, I always felt deep down that I was a smart kid. I always excelled at English and writing and, even in elementary school, loved to write. However, my parents never asked me for my report card or even cared if I went to class. They never asked if I wanted to go to college. Therefore, even though I knew I’d go to college, I wasn’t a disciplined student. All I knew was that I wanted to write. I loved writing.
My father was diabetic, and that mixed with alcohol makes for a very sick person. Many times, he’d be so sick that all my sister and I could do was sit with him, read the Bible, and pray. I was fortunate enough that by seventeen, I had enough credits to graduate, so my high school principal permitted me to have a half-day schedule, and I became my father’s caretaker. School, unfortunately, fell lower in the list of priorities, and when my father died during my first semester in college, I didn’t know what to do with myself. For so long, life had been taking care of Dad. I did finally go back to Brigham Young University – Hawaii, but I still lacked the study habits to get better-than-average grades. The only classes I made sure I did well in were my English and writing classes.
While at BYU–Hawaii, I was in an environment that allowed me the opportunity to teach. I served a full-time mission for my church and there gained the discipline I was lacking to be a successful student. As a missionary, I studied so hard to make sure I was ready to answer any question the people we were serving had. Education became a matter of the heart. Still, it took me five long years to get back to college once my mission was completed.
These experiences have given me the opportunity to grow and progress as a human being. I have worked on not repeating some of the things my parents have done, while still appreciating the good they gave me. I have become a wife and mother. Together as a true family, we have faced health issues for our three-year-old son, who was born prematurely and struggled with multiple bouts of pneumonia during his first two years, and two consecutive years of my husband being laid off. Balancing life with school has not been easy, but it has been worth it.
The love of writing is my greatest motivation not to give up. We all have our talents and gifts to share. I believe we are given these abilities in order to touch one another and to offer the support we all need to cope with life and its struggles. I know that, through writing, I can use the wisdom that life’s challenges have given me and share it with the people around me. I can touch people in the sweet, profound way I was meant to.
Because of this, I have done all I can to study anything that might help to make me the best writer I can be. This practice in focus has paved the way for me to work on becoming the best person I can be. I’ve taken acting classes and writing workshops, have studied film and theatre, and am now finally finishing the degree I started 15 years ago just before my father’s death. Being at Rollins is a dream come true.
The day I stepped back in the classroom was one of joy and, as I said in the beginning, gratitude. I never thought I’d be the kind of student who got scholarships or straight A’s, but here I am. I remember going to my first class on my first day at Rollins. I sat there and kept thinking to myself: I’m at Rollins.
Since coming to Rollins College, I have been taught by amazing teachers, made lifelong friends, and received guidance from the helpful and caring staff. I will take what I have gained from my time at Rollins and share it with my community and work to make society a better place. I have already been published in a literary magazine and written scripts for two short films, and I am currently working to publish my first novel. I hope to go on to earn my master’s degree in fine arts and teach while publishing writing of my own.
People learn differently when they are learning with gratitude. I treasure every word and thought people share with me. Knowledge is truly a gift that I will share with others. My children will see their mother studying and know it is important to finish what you start, and I will be asking them for their report cards and explaining to them what education really means. Education means experiencing the hope life has to offer.
Every day, I read a quote by the philosopher Lao-Tzu that states: “Be content with what you have. Rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
On behalf of all the Hamilton Holt School scholarship students, I would like to thank our donors, especially those who are here tonight. Experiences such as this give people like me hope to believe in ourselves, to be grateful for all that we have been given to endure and grow from, and to reach for our dreams. I not only aim to reflect life through art, but also to inspire—to touch lives and let people know they are not alone. I feel my life has given me depth to draw from, which has enriched my writing and desire for a bachelor’s degree. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to achieve a life’s dream of mine through education. Thank you for the gift of hope.
Good evening, everyone. I’m so pleased that I was asked to speak here tonight, because it gives me the chance to offer my most humble and sincere thanks to a very special group of people, without whom I would not be able to attend classes at Rollins and work toward my future goals. I am, of course, talking about the Hamilton Holt School scholarship donors, whom we have gathered here tonight to recognize. I and all other Holt scholarship recipients would not be here today if not for your generosity.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself. I’m a 29-year-old senior in the Holt psychology program. I have a passion for assisting others and have long dreamed of working in the counseling profession, but school was not always a large part of my life. After high school, I denied the need for a higher education and found myself floating from one dead-end job to the next. Finally, I decided that I’d had enough. I would no longer simply dream about a career, I would take the first steps toward realizing that dream. That was almost five years ago, and I stand here tonight to tell you that this is and will always be the most important decision I have made, and it changed my life for the better.
I’m proud to say that I have applied myself well over these years in school. I am a 4.0 student at Holt, no small feat when one considers that I also hold a demanding full-time job in trucking logistics and recently married to start a family. The secret to this success is simple: I have worked hard to be the best that I am capable of being and have never settled for anything less than that. My studies have expanded my knowledge base and allowed for my critical thinking skills to blossom, tools I’ve found useful at my current job. I was also recently appointed the chair of the Holt School’s Academic Honor Council. Our goal of educating students about our code of honor in different settings has become a passion for me. It has given me a means to give back to our community through my service to this important organization. I owe this and more to those who have given me so much.
A little more about myself: I have been married for two years, and my wife is also a student, completing her nursing degree. We take time to encourage and love one another, and we look forward to the impact our education will have on our future. As a side effect of our studies, though, we often do not see one another until the weekend comes. This can be taxing, but our relationship will endure this trial.
People often ask me questions about some of my experiences. First of all, while my wife and I work full-time jobs, our paychecks are just enough for the necessities in life. We are hard-pressed to afford school and still keep ahead of mounting bills. Many students have parents whom they can go to for support, but cancer took my father from me when I was 16. My mother is disabled and cannot work. My sisters support her as best they can. The responsibility rests solely with my wife and me to pay for our schooling and start a future. Another question you may have is about time, or rather, the lack of it. I spend nearly every moment of every day either racing to someplace I must be quickly or concentrating on what I am working on. A typical day for me starts at six in the morning and does not find me home until around 10 at night. Then homework must be kept up with, and sleep eventually finds me. All of this talk of urgency reminds me of something that happened to me just the other day.
When I started thinking about the best way to express my appreciation to everyone here tonight, I did so where I do most of my thinking: in my car. Every day, I probably spend three or four hours in the car during my trips to work, to school, and back again, so I use that time to plan and reflect. It can be arduous, but that’s part of life. The problem I experienced this day was that I was not keeping that big picture in mind. I was not thinking of the world around me, and I certainly was not practicing patience. Albeit this is a difficult thing to do while driving through intense I-4 traffic, God does not see these boundaries. So He decided to show me a lesson.
As I drove down the road that day, the sky dark with rain and storms pouring all over, I found myself frustrated at the small amount of time I had to get to class from my job. I found myself tense. My fingers turned white as they gripped the steering wheel, small beads of sweat dotted my brow, and my breathing became shallow. So I raced down the road, deftly moving from lane to lane, pushing my speed in the heavy rain, until I found myself in the Rollins parking garage. Time was running out, because I needed to be in class shortly, so I walked quickly through the rain-soaked building, rounding down a staircase as a thought occurred to me: “The ground is quite slippery; I need to be careful.” It was then that I heard a scream.
It came from below me and echoed up. A woman had fallen down several stairs and landed with her back scraping the concrete. She screamed incoherencies, and her body shook with spasms. Pain was clearly etched on her face. I ran down the stairs and asked her, “Are you OK?” In hindsight, this seems a fairly silly question to ask, but it was my immediate reaction. She shook her head in pain. At first, I didn’t quite know what to do, but my critical thinking kicked in. I needed to call 911 immediately. As we waited for the ambulance, I noticed that there was a distinct difference in people who walked by. Some stopped and asked if she was OK, if she would be tended to. Others walked over her and proceeded on their way. God showed me a lesson at that point in time.
He showed me patience and, what’s more, that I could endure a tragic scene like that and still be to class on time. But more came to me from this story. I thought long and hard about the two types of people, the ones who stepped over this student and the others who stopped and asked if she would be all right. I thought about the Rollins mission to “educate students for global citizenship and responsible leadership.” I realized that I embraced our mission. I am a global citizen and a responsible leader. My mind knew exactly what to do and how to process this critical situation, using skills I obtained in school in practicing thinking through situations. None of this was by coincidence. God wanted me to see this part of my life.
The simple heartfelt appreciation that I could express to you tonight does not seem to be enough. Words often fail when I consider how my hard work has paid off and how thankful I feel to those who were generous enough to give me a chance so many years ago when I decided to go back to school, and who continue to give me a chance now. But please accept that my words are sincere when I tell you that I would not be where I am in life today without the generosity of everyone here tonight. I would especially like to recognize my scholarship donor, Harriett Lake. You have truly given me a chance to make something of myself and to realize my potential as a person. My only hope is that one day I can find some way to repay the community and continue this cycle of giving and nurturing. Thank you, and God bless.
From the time I was a child, my dream was to be in the military. My friends and I spent countless weekends out in the yard playing with our GI Joes and watching James Bond and old war movies. I decided early on that I wanted more than anything to be an officer some day. I dreamed that I would go to one of the service academies no matter what it took. It was the only dream I remember having as a child besides wanting to be a rock star. Everyone told me that both dreams were just about as likely.
In the winter of 2006, my dream came true. Twelve years in the making. There it was in the mail, my appointment. It was my golden ticket, and I treasured it more than anything. I will always remember that day – December 15, 2006. It was surreal to know I had accomplished what I had worked so hard for, and I couldn't have been happier.
I was headed to the United States Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut. Out of 11,000 applicants that year, I was one of 275 to be granted an appointment. I felt special. I was one of three from Florida that year, the first from my high school, and as far as anyone knew, the first student from Orange County Public Schools to be accepted. Everyone who knew me was so excited. I was doing something difficult, different, and special. I would be an officer in the Coast Guard in four years, and from that point forward, I would be taken care of. Starting day one, I would have a salary, job security, full benefits, retirement plan, living expenses covered, three meals a day, and most importantly: respect.
I swore in on July 2, 2007 at 5:00 p.m. on the main lawn with the other 274 members of the class of 2011. Mom and Dad couldn't have been more proud, and they couldn't help but cry at the sight of their little boy growing up right before their eyes. Everything was exactly what I had hoped and worked all these years for. Little did I know that I would never get the chance to take my first class at the Academy.
A few nights in, I was seriously injured. I woke up in the medical ward, startled because it all seemed unreal. The doctor informed me that the commandant had regretfully made the decision to dismiss me... I was home within two weeks.
Never in my life had I felt so hopeless and depressed. Being asked to leave the school I had dreamed about due to factors completely out of my control was disheartening and incredibly disappointing. Some days I could barely get out of bed, and my apathy was consuming me. There didn’t seem to be much left. My friends were all attending college, and I was home alone, right back where we had all started. I was not the same person who had graduated from high school only months before. I had lost my spark, and as far as I could tell, it wasn't coming back.
I couldn't help feeling that I was living in the shadow of what I used to be. Every time someone asked me why I was home and I told the story, it became more real. I called all the schools that had offered me scholarships in high school, but the effort was fruitless. All the money was long gone. My only option was community college.
I was set to graduate from Valencia Community College in December of 2008, but I still had not decided where to finish my degree. I explored many options, but I had my heart set on Rollins College. I wanted a small atmosphere with personal attention and a rigorous academic program designed to challenge me. I kept remembering all the things I had heard about Rollins, and anywhere else seemed like a compromise. There was just one problem: I didn't think I could afford it.
What happened next is what I refer to as a “God Thing,” or you might call it a miracle. A few days before my Valencia graduation, I ran into one of my favorite professors, and we got to talking. I mentioned my transferring issues, and she immediately had my answer. She told me about the Evening Program at Rollins. It sounded almost too good to be true. I scheduled an appointment the next day, and I fell completely in love. I had found my place.
When I began studying economics at Rollins, I discovered the burgeoning entrepreneur in me. My plan is to start and run my own independent record label and clothing design company, blending my love of music with my passion for art. This venture will allow me to make a living at the two things I love most – creating music and art. Both my mother and father are self-employed, so I feel that the spirit of independence and self-reliance is in my blood.
Along with the spirit of independence, I’ve also been passed the volunteer’s heart. In high school, I received the Presidential Award for Service for my community service. I currently hold three part-time jobs that help spread the love of learning. I teach music to preschoolers at a small Christian church, tutor neighborhood girls in English and math, and work as an intern for the Hamilton Holt School, representing Rollins at education fairs. Although these jobs are spiritually rewarding, they do not cover my educational expenses. But thanks to scholarship donors, I’m able to do this work I’m passionate about.
Two years ago I would never have believed I would be where I am today. Rollins is my new home. I know that this is where I belong.
I transferred into the Rollins College Hamilton Holt program from another school because my needs as a degree-seeking student were unmet. I wanted change. I believed then, and believe now, that there should be more weight in a degree than just a piece of paper with a graduation date. I wanted my academic experience to be one of give and take.
During my time at Rollins, the goals I have for the future have come into sharper focus. I started DeVry as a single mom working two jobs, depending on hefty grants and loans just to cover my tuition. At the same time, both of my sons needed extra attention for their medical needs. My older son had been recently diagnosed with a learning disability, and my youngest son had open heart surgery when he was six days old.
I am still learning how to balance my family, school, and career along with my personal goals of service and leadership. A’s and B’s don’t come easy for me, not necessarily because of study or subject, but every grade that I post comes with the cost of time. Time that is not spent with my family. I am not a young student and have two active boys. I want to be a good role model and to do what I need to do to balance actually being there for my children and actually doing something for myself. I have learned more recently at Rollins, more about balance and how to integrate service.
The Leadership Distinction program is a wonderful tool to foster community relationships. The program teaches students the fundamentals of student, group, and community and how they can work in a synergistic way within our diverse world. The Environmental Studies and Growth Management program that Rollins offers provides unrivaled resources. Students take a more focused look at the development of cities, from the bones of a busy metropolitan core to the sprawling network of suburbs and countrysides, and are challenged to plan for growth more effectively.
I want to benefit intellectually in order to use that knowledge to give back to the community. I want to teach my children how to be global citizens and more community-minded. I want the world to know that people should be helping other people. Rollins alumnus and creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Fred Rogers said that “life is for service.” And while not perfect, I try to live that kind of life. We have a personal responsibility to stand behind the product of ourselves and bring forth the best product we have each and every day.
I love to do volunteer work for the American Heart Association and have done so for almost seven years. Two of those years I spent as a community board member, and I will soon enter my second year on their logistics committee to organize the Heartwalk. I volunteer for my church, the Boy Scouts of America, and numerous environmental projects. I believe I have more to offer the community.
I think it goes without saying that this past year has been hard on many industries. My own family has felt the pressure of tighter budgets and unexpected changes in employment. I honestly thought that I would be able to graduate in 2009, but found that I had to keep pushing things back so that I could continue to go to school while still making ends meet for my home and family. There were moments when I thought I would have to take a break from school just to stay afloat.
My professional goals include giving back to the company that has afforded me unprecedented personal and professional growth. They have shown me patience and understanding throughout the pursuit of my educational endeavors. I am blessed to work for an ethical, community-minded company. Few people have the opportunity to learn not only from their chosen school, but also from a company with active civic leaders who have been in business for over 60 years.
Fred Rogers also said, “At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds.”
My name is James Walker. I’m currently a senior working full time on a degree in international affairs and a minor in religion and philosophy, and I am incredibly honored to be here before you tonight. I am the first in my family to go to college, and my parents take great pride in standing behind my success. They also experience a great deal of regret that they cannot afford financial support. This generous scholarship provides as much relief to their emotional burden as it does to my financial burden, and for that I could not be more grateful. Like so many of my experiences at Rollins over the past two and a half years, this one proves again that altruism and compassion are alive and well.
I learned quite a bit about compassion at a very young age. When I was just six years old my mother, working in a nursing home, was badly injured and left permanently disabled. She has spent the past 25 years in constant, often agonizing, pain; her life has been limited primarily to a hospital bed, sometimes for months on end, and she is often bound to a wheelchair just to get around the house. The memories I carry from the early years of her ordeal are of my own anxiety as I discovered that she was not invincible, of my helplessness to protect her, and of my sometimes overwhelming fear of losing her. This was a heavy load for a six year old to carry, a load mostly beyond my ability to even comprehend. And while my parents did their best to keep me and my brother on track to be happy, carefree kids, I couldn’t help allowing the randomness of her injury and the unfairness of her agony to infiltrate my perceptions of the world.
It was her strength and optimism that kept me from becoming cynical. Instead, what I learned was the potential for human courage and the importance of appreciating all the gifts of life, because no matter how honest, decent, and hard working a person may be, tomorrow is promised to no one.
As a grown man, at least slightly more sophisticated than my six-year-old self, I see not just my mother in pain, but also a woman who had to reevaluate her whole life plan, who had to accept a drastic set of limitations on her identity as a mother and as a wife, who had to relinquish so much personal freedom that so many of us take for granted. Yet she has never given up her faith in God or her love of life, even as her pain becomes tougher to manage and the cost of her care tougher to afford.
Her courage in the face of her limitations is what drives my ambitions. To squander this life, to not put everything I have and everything I am into being the best person I can be, would be the worst kind of dishonor to her example.
Yet despite the weight of this lesson, somewhere along the way I lost my vision. Ten years went by after high school and I had, in my mind, done nothing. The ambition to be more never went away; it just manifested into a form of despair, growing more troublesome with every passing year that I failed to meet my own expectations. Like so many people, I had found it easy to surrender to the comforts of a safe but mediocre existence, content over time to accept an absence of joy in exchange for an absence of risk. For many of us, the struggle from paycheck to paycheck takes place right at the edge of survival, we remain mostly unaware of the little compromises we make just to stay on top, and we eventually let go of our dreams.
Fortunately, I saw myself approaching that precipice, and I saw the harsh toll that years of unfulfilled ambition had taken on my self-esteem. The worst part, though, was the awful sense that I had let my parents down.
I made a commitment to reject the safety of inaction, and through a mixture of equal parts good sense and good luck, I turned to Rollins and began down a path of uncertainty and risk, a path of action. I didn’t know then what the next step would be, but I focused on the first step and trusted that doors would open with time. Boy, did they!
Over the course of the next two and half years, I gained two fundamental things: the first is an understanding that the world is moved by individuals with no more super powers than me; and the second is a renewal of my youthful idealism, fostered by the lessons and examples of so many people here at Rollins, but none more so than my first professor, and now my friend and mentor, adjunct professor Jim Armstrong, who proved to me simply, but powerfully, that there is immense value in a life lived in service. All that I have achieved at Rollins and all that I hope to do when I leave here is built on, and strengthened by, his teaching and advice. I hope that I can one day repay the priceless gift of his wise mentorship by being such an influence on my own students.
Before that day comes though, I plan to attend law school and work toward a career in the development of international criminal law and the cause of social justice around the world. Even as I say those words out loud, I get this sense that they must be coming from someone else’s lips. You see, after so many years of compromise and surrender, I still can’t quite embrace my new reality.
In that regard, I have always envied people seemingly born to be something, because for so long I had no idea who I wanted to be. From the outside, it looks so easy for so many people who graduate from high school and go on to college and then a career. In the absence of knowing what else to do, I worked hard after high school, and I have a good job with a big company that could easily become a rewarding career. But I know that it isn’t my passion. And “easy” isn’t my way.
What I have learned in my time at Rollins has opened my eyes to a view of a better world, and allowed me to see more clearly my role in it. I learned that you can’t try a little to realize your dreams. Huge life-altering decisions have to be made, and they have to be both scary and uncomfortable. And while there’s no certainty and no safety net, what you end up with is a rich and rewarding life.
Thanks to the solid foundation I was raised on, the noble example of those who dedicate their lives to teaching, and the gracious generosity of the donors who embody the very concept of humanity, I find myself engaged in full pursuit of my dreams. I see my education at Rollins as a central and defining element of that journey, even as the distance I have yet to go seems daunting, sometimes overwhelming, and yet powerfully simple. I feel, finally, like I was born to be something.
In a childhood filled with pain, school was the one place in which I found peace and self-worth. At an early age, I knew that education was very important. I also discovered that learning was fun and studying was not a chore but an opportunity to learn something new and apply it to the world around me. Education connected me to something bigger than a broken homelife; it connected me to the bridge where dreams could manifest themselves into reality. School continues to represent a place of freedom.
I became pregnant in my senior year of high school and was unable to graduate with my class. The transition from high school student to teen mom was monumental. Being a new mom is naturally challenging, but being a teen mom was extremely difficult. I could no longer shop for the latest fashions or hang out with my friends. Instead, I devoted my young life to the new life in which I was solely responsible. My friends became fewer and the close ones made brave attempts to remain in my life and keep things “normal.” Six months after I gave birth to my oldest son, I went to Orlando Vo-Tech in the evenings and received my GED. I worked dead-end retail jobs while I attended The Business Training Institute, which is now called Herzing Institute, where I graduated with a secretarial diploma. This diploma changed my career path from retail sales to the clerical field; I continue to benefit from this training today.
Even with my new skills and training, I found myself being turned down for the jobs of interest and doors closed because I did not have a college degree The opportunity to obtain my college degree is a dream come true. I began my college journey when my children were very young and it was important for me to be their role model, by now they know that they WILL go to college, this changes my family’s future.
Today, my children are much older and our roles, at times, reverse. They have become my role models and support system. When I think about playing “ hooky” I am quickly reminded how detrimental that would be to my grades and if I cut class then they should be able to as well…needless to say I have had perfect attendance!
I could not have selected a better school to pursue my college degree. Studying under professors, such as Dr. Rick Bommelje, who live what they teach, has taught me how to live with purpose. Dr. Bommelje’s philosophy is to “make everyday count.” I am continuously challenged to perform at my very best in every situation. Over the summer I was discouraged in my workplace and Professor Bommelje appeared in my dream to tell me that I was not doing my best, which helped me regain my focus as well as freaked me out! Rollins continues to challenge me and I continue to grow.
Rollins is a phenomenal school, and my experiences here do not end in the classroom. I have taken part in several leadership immersion trips sponsored by the college. These trips gave me the opportunity to give back. I have cleared hiking paths deep in the Ocala Forest, spent the weekend making kids smile at Give Kids the World and worked with at-risk kids in Atlanta over my spring break. Each trip is special and I have become a better person due to these experiences. Rollins has changed my life.
Attending college was never something I considered as a child. Growing up in a poor family in rural Texas, the only thing that mattered at the end of the day was how hard you worked, physically. I grew up watching my father practically work himself to death, maintaining two jobs just to keep food on the table, in addition to running the family farm.
My weekends consisted of working on the farm or tending to the oil rig. The days began before the sun came up and ended well after sunset. My grandfather owned an oil rig, known as a pulling unit, and I was his only helper. My job was to break apart 16-foot sections of sucker rod with two wrenches as my grandfather raised and lowered the boom. It may not sound like much, but when the well is 3,600 feet deep, it can be grueling. We would also pull 20-foot sections of four-inch pipe out of the same well and replace the bad pieces, which were typically at the bottom. Temperatures around the oil wells were typically ten to fifteen degrees hotter than the outside temperature, most of the time exceeding 120 degrees in summer months. On top of this, I was always covered in hot oil. Like working on the farm, it was a family duty, and I was required to do my part.
In high school, I was an average student, but I never tried to excel in anything except sports. Just before my senior year started, I was in a car accident where I was the driver and one of my best friends lost her life. Everyone—including her family—told me that it was not my fault, that it was an accident. Her mother told me, “Josh, these things happen for a reason. Now you have to live for Cassi, the way she would want you to live.” However, I could not convince myself that it was not my fault. I struggled with my guilt for many years afterward. I began to drink heavily. Sports, school, and friends were no longer important to me. After some trouble I got into at a school function, I decided that school wasn’t for me. Fortunately, my father convinced me that dropping out of school was not an option, the way he usually convinced me to do the right thing. I wanted more from life and did not want to struggle the way my parents did. Feeling responsible for the loss of a life, I joined the United States Coast Guard after graduation to save as many lives as possible.
Joining the service changed my life! It taught me discipline and respect, and I grew from a boy to a man in a matter of months. During my seven years of service, I served in numerous duty locations and assignments. Within four years of service, I advanced to Petty Officer Second Class, a task that takes most service men and women six years to complete. While serving my country, I received two Meritorious Unit awards, a Meritorious Team award, a Good Conduct medal, a Sea Service award, and many other outstanding service and performance awards. As an Officer of the Day at U.S. Coast Guard Station Ponce de Leon Inlet, I led and supervised my crew for two years. During that time, my duty section had the distinction of being the only duty section with no mishaps or discrepancies while performing our duties. I was involved in many search and rescue operations, saving hundreds of lives, and I conducted hundreds of law enforcement boardings to help protect our people and our country. On March 17, 2004, I received an honorable discharge and was free to start my life in the civilian sector.
After the military, I realized the need for higher education. I realized that in order to be where I want to be in life, obtaining my college degree was something I must do. My goal is to be the first person in my family to earn a college degree. So far, I have completed my AA degree at Valencia Community College and was on the Dean’s and President’s list for several semesters. I also want to set a good example for my children and be able to provide them with things I was not given as a child. My two girls, an 8-year-old named Nekoda and an 11-month-old named Skylar, will be able to go to college when the time comes because of my hard work and dedication. I plan to pursue a career in corporate law, and upon completing my degree at Rollins College, I will transfer to Florida A&M University College of Law. As an attorney, I hope to serve my community in all ways possible.
This scholarship has given me the opportunity to change my life and the lives of the future generations in my family. I know that my daughters may not understand it now, but when they attend college, they will be grateful for the scholarship I received. This gift is an absolute blessing to me and my family. It has lifted a large financial burden off my wife and me.
This scholarship will simply help me reach my goals; it will not make them happen. I know there is a lot of work ahead of me, but I intend to succeed. Every day I am inspired by the words “Now you have to live for Cassi, the way she would want you to live.”
From a young age, I felt that my path to a higher education was impossible. To start, my parents decided to divorce when I was still just a baby. I was raised by a single parent, who herself was trying to rebuild her life and find her own identity, and I can’t say I had the most secure home life. We were constantly moving from one place to another. I can’t even begin to guess how many day-care centers or elementary schools I attended during those years. After my parents’ divorce, my mother’s financial situation got worse, and she ended up filing for bankruptcy twice. With such financial hardships, I eventually had to start living with my grandparents full time.
Watching my mother struggle and seeing my grandparents trying to care for me, I realized at a young age how important money was. When I was about nine, I was on a mission to start earning some myself. I would do anything I could around the neighborhood to earn a little extra money. In fact, I even got some of the neighborhood kids into my little business. We would pull weeds, mow lawns, groom pets, or even paint fences.
My drive to earn a living did not end there. Immediately after my 16th birthday, I was knocking at Disney’s door. I was finally earning a real paycheck and was able to financially help my parents and grandparents. It felt great. But since I was helping them, I had to put college to the side.
For several years after high school, I felt content with life. I had found a great job with an amazing company that I knew cared about my future. But one day, while I was driving in my car, I began thinking about my future for the first time. I felt as though my life up to that point had simply been a mediocre experience. I was too young to feel I had reached the pinnacle of my potential. In that car ride, I knew I had to make some changes. I knew that if I wanted to challenge myself to be more, I had to go back to school to get the tools I would need.
However, my path back to school was a struggle. Because I was helping my family financially, I had no available funds to pay for tuition and books. I tried to apply for assistance, but I was always told my parents made too much to qualify. Which, considering that I was struggling financially to help them, was very frustrating and discouraging! One day when I discussing my frustrations with a co-worker, she asked if I had thought of attending Rollins. At first I thought her suggestion was humorous. I could barely afford the idea of attending a community college let alone a renowned college such as Rollins. But being a Hamilton Holt student herself, she knew it was possible and she knew that I could find the financial help that I would need.
From the moment I stepped foot on campus, I knew I was where I needed to be. Rollins has opened my eyes to the world around me in so many ways. I never realized how blindly I accepted things as facts and never thought to question them. I remember my second semester at Rollins, in my INT200 class, when I first realized how closed-minded I had been about my education. I had read the same book as everyone else, had taken my notes, and memorized all the key facts. But when the class started discussing their personal views and opinions about the text, I was lost. I didn’t realize I was supposed to have an opinion, and I didn’t even think to question the knowledge that was placed in front of me. That class was my first real eye-opening experience, and as every class goes by, my eyes continue to open even wider.
I truly want to continue my education at Rollins, and I have worked very hard to be here. But it has been a difficult. I have to have the funds to support not only myself but also my mother and my grandmother. To keep up with everything, I have had to regularly juggle a full-time and part-time job along with three or four classes a semester. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been well worth it. My education is everything to me, and no matter how demanding this journey may be, I know the rewards will be far greater.
Continuing my education has been my dream, and it also has been the dream of my grandparents. Unfortunately, one of my biggest supporters won’t see me achieve it. My grandfather succumbed to his many health problems even before I could graduate from high school. After my grandfather’s death, their house was eventually too much for my grandmother to handle. I couldn’t bear the thought of her losing the house she loved so much, so we became roommates. I help her with the bills, and I get clean laundry, home-cooked meals, and a kiss goodnight every night. What more could a girl ask for! It has become my goal to dedicate myself to my education so that at least my other biggest fan, my grandmother, can watch me accept my diploma.
I often think back on my high school years, remembering how upset my parents became when I told them I wanted to drop out of school during my senior year. I replay the conversation when my grandmother said, “You have to be a fool to complete 11 years of school and then drop out without having anything to show for all that time.” She raised a very good point, so I decided to stay in school. Soon after, I was expelled from all Orange County Public Schools for fighting, skipping classes, getting suspended, and drinking alcohol in class. I had to painfully watch my mom and grandmother plead with the school board to allow me to be placed at the Wymore Alternative School. Under a once-in-a lifetime agreement, Jones High School told me that if I did well at Wymore, I could graduate with my class at Jones. I went above and beyond what was required in an attempt to make my family proud of a failing son. I persevered, and after I purchased a cap and gown and attended the baccalaureate for Jones, the school informed my parents that I was still one credit shy of graduating. My mom was devastated, but she motivated me to keep on pushing and to not give up. To make a long story short, I went to summer school to conquer that one credit. My mother still went to the graduation, even in my absence, and I received my diploma upon completion of summer school.
I then joined the U.S. Army, where I served three years and received an honorable discharge. I had served my country proudly and traveled the world, but once I returned home, I began to party hard, partying to the extent that I fathered two children out of wedlock. When my kids were born, I experienced some of the happiest moments of my life. But when I was served child support papers, they became some of the darkest days of my life. I became defiant because I was being forced to take care of my kids without having the chance to voluntarily do so. I became very depressed and despondent. My soul was empty and I had given up on life. At that moment I had become the very thing that I despised: A Deadbeat Dad. It’s a good thing I had a praying family because they refused to give up on me. While they were praying, I was remembering, yes remembering, all the times I went to church as a child. I chose to rededicate my life to the Lord, and he has been leading me ever since. I began to take care of my kids like a real father should, and my next goal was to enroll at Valencia Community College.
I was scared at first, but I knew I had enough resolve and determination to see my way through. While attending Valencia, fantasies of becoming a Rollins student were always present in my mind. Whenever I rode by the campus, I lived vicariously through other students, wishing I could be walking around that campus one day. Since my faith level was up, I decided to submit an application so I could at least say I tried. When I received the acceptance letter, I fell to my knees with tears in my eyes and thanked GOD for supplying my needs. It has been a real honor and a blessing to be at Rollins. The teaching methods that are synonymous with Rollins have been unbelievable. Every one of my teachers has challenged me to become the best student I am capable of being. Now I am living life with a purpose derived from a quote a former Rollins professor frequently implored: “Make every moment count!”
In the neighborhoods that I grew up in, many of the children are not exposed to the influences of a better life. They constantly limit themselves and live life through negative statistics, thinking the whole world is in a three-block radius. I know this all too well because I used to view life the same way. These children have not been exposed to learning institutions like Rollins that offer a new way to view the world and our purpose in it. So now, whenever I get a chance, I ask these children “Are you making every moment count?” Most of the time, these kids are happy to know someone is concerned about their well-being, and that is when I let them know there is more to life than street corners, big rims, and gold chains.
So when asked what this scholarship means to me, I can sincerely say it means a new purpose in life. I want to enlighten inner city kids that there is more to life than their surrounding circumstances. This scholarship means GOD has placed special people in my life who thought enough about me and many others, that they challenged us through their financial support to achieve higher learning and to become business and social leaders in our communities, and abroad.
When I came to Rollins, I had certain prejudices that had me thinking I was going to be an outcast who would be treated differently. It has been just the opposite; everyone has been personable and approachable, while treating me with the utmost respect. When Rollins screams community, everyone is included in that community. When Rollins shouts excellence, everyone is challenged to give their best while making others better. And when Rollins roars innovation, it provides technologically “smart” classrooms that could be on The Jetsons. But one of the standards that Rollins quietly offers is opportunity; and with the scholarships provided, the opportunities are unlimited.