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Jordyn Tye

Jordyn Tye

Arizona State University

Jordyn's Essay

At age six I was forced to “grow up.” While sitting on the carpet of multicolored squares in my 1st grade classroom, nervously unravelling the stitching of the rug, and trying to recall the letters of the alphabet, my peers were shouting out the letters in order and reciting the rhymes that marked the end of the school day. Instead of joining them, I worried whether my mom would show up to pick me up from school. Would I have to venture over to the neighbor’s house for dinner? A student assistant appeared at the classroom door holding a dreaded pink summons slip. It read “NOW.” The slip was for me. As I walked down the dreary florescent-lit hallway my stomach was in knots, my face flushed. I had a gut feeling my mother was on her way to jail.

When I was older, I learned my mother had been in jail four times and was once charged with a drug felony of possession of cocaine. That day in the principal’s office, I could not imagine my future; I had no idea my mother’s journey from incarceration to rehabilitation would set me on a path to my future career in the legal field.

When I arrived at the principal’s office, I was asked a series of questions about my mother’s drug usage. I was overwhelmed with emotions. I was confused and humiliated. I recalled the numerous times I had waited on playground for her to pick me up after school, the times she was asleep at four in the afternoon, and the times I went to the neighbor’s because my mom forgot to make dinner. I was told by the school resource officer that my mother was going to jail, and I would be living with my grandparents. These words made me dizzy. However, instead of letting this moment define my mother, myself, or my future, I did something different.

I spent five years in elementary school living with my grandparents. I attribute the fiery passion for learning I possess today to this experience. I filled my free time reading books, learning the multiplication tables, and writing short stories. In just a short year, I evolved from struggling to keep up with my schoolwork and assignments to receiving an invitation to the gifted and talented program, and placement in double advanced courses.

I was a curious child, but my curiosity was far from traditional. While my peers were excited about the magical spirit of the holiday season, I felt ecstatic to leave school early one snowy afternoon to visit my mom in her rehabilitation facility. I vividly remember the humiliation when I was sitting at the lunchroom table in elementary school when one of my friends told the whole table I was leaving early to visit my mom who was a “drug addict.”

One of the many obstacles I overcame was explaining my unusual childhood to my peers and teachers. I can still picture the wide-eyed, raised-eyebrow look of confusion and shock that overcame the face of my first-grade best friend when I told her why I lived with my grandparents. Despite these challenges, I would later discover that my mother’s experience as a recovering drug addict propelled my interest in the law and criminal justice reform.

It was not until I was a freshman in high school sitting in the El Paso County Courthouse as a Teen Court volunteer when I discovered my passion for the law. Having first read the police report of the case of one defendant, my mind resorted to forming stereotypes. Before meeting the defendant, I envisioned a disobedient and defiant teenager. Instead, a small, innocent young boy walked through the door. I quickly realized the impact of our stereotypes and biases. I could only imagine the stereotypes that my mother endured. In the five years that followed, I worked with many defendants to implement restorative justice principles and to expunge charges from their records.

However, this is not always an option for someone convicted of a felony. Many people convicted of drug felonies endure agonizing effects years later. They may be unable to vote, volunteer, secure a financially stable career. Worst of all, they can lose their children. With a law school education, I will be well equipped with the tools to defend those who are marginalized and placed into subservience by the criminal justice system.

Today, my mother has been sober for ten years and is an important mentor to me. Despite being a single mother, her resilience has inspired me, her mistakes have taught me many lessons, and best of all, her experience has shaped who I am today and my future career as an attorney. Through my legal studies, I will call into question the actions of authority figures, ensure no child must unjustly visit their mother in rehab during the holidays, and reform the criminal justice system that has fought to oppress and marginalize those who need support. This scholarship will ensure that I am able to pursue my dream of becoming a lawyer without having to take out excessive loans.

Christopher Lowery

Christopher Lowery

Snow College

Christopher's Essay

I was born into a family where I was the youngest of 11 children. When I was a month old, we were evicted from our home and thrust into homelessness. We ended up living out in the country, in a free 3-bedroom mobile home that did not have water or electricity, for 8 months. My older siblings did not welcome me, and they bullied and abused me mercilessly. I tried to be a happy child, but it was difficult. I have ADHD and am severely dyslexic, and I became very overweight and depressed, which did not help. Our poverty forced us to move frequently, and as a result, when I moved away from home at age 15 I didn’t have a lot of connections or people that I could turn to.

Then, I discovered theater. Suddenly, I had a place where I could go and speak honestly about my life. The roles gave me an outlet for my emotions, and a wonderful teacher gave me a place to cry. When I had a breakdown or needed comfort, my teacher was available and made me feel like she cared about my situation and my life. Getting in front of the audience helped me to overcome my fear of public speaking.

During this same time period, I enrolled in scouts. I was embraced by a group of people who were very accepting, and by leaders who genuinely took an interest in me. I was a part of a group that cared about me and my leaders were amazing. They helped me feel wanted involved and confident.

I decided to take a chance and became involved with the debate club. I was a pushover because of being bullied so much, and I was tired of my terrible self-image and lack of self-worth. After a short while, I was elected president of the debate club. The Debate Club helped me realize that if I put in effort, I could fight back, and could do things that were important to me.

Once I started to believe in myself, I started trying out for leadership positions. I was elected President of the Theater Team and held political ASB presidential positions in high school. My theater roles continued to help me to feel more assertive and gain self-respect and worth. All those years of being pushed around and quieted, helped me value those who did not have a voice or the ability to assert themselves, and I was able to see them as important. Once I saw my self-worth, I was able to help others.

These experiences taught me lessons that will help me in the future because of the empathy and understanding I have gained from them. I have learned that it is worth putting in the effort. This is why I have chosen to go into the field of Psychology, because I hope to pass on the lessons that I have learned to others who may need to hear them. There is always a solution that can be obtained if you refuse to fail. Starting at the bottom really can be an advantage, because you see that there is nowhere to go but up.

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This was taken with my best friend in scouts (I'm the timid one on the right)

This is me with my Theatre friends (I'm in the middle)

Ka'Mya Brower

Ka'Mya Brower

Howard University

Ka'Mya's Essay

My name is Ka'Mya Brower and I am a freshman honors political science major with an undecided minor from Newark, New Jersey, attending Howard University. For as long as I can remember I felt a looming pressure to be “the example”. As the oldest sibling of four, I constantly felt that I had to be ‘the good kid”. I had to be the one who set an example for my younger siblings. I had to be “the responsible one.”

Beginning in middle school I had to take care of my siblings. A normal morning for me meant that after my mother left for work, I made sure that each of my three siblings made it out of the house and to their three respective schools. I would then catch the bus to my school across town ensuring I was never late. My family responsibilities did not end there. I took care of my siblings in the evenings and on weekends while maintaining a part-time job at my local grocery store.

In highschool, the pressure continued. I am a straight-A student who always does the right thing. Like my mother, I realized that my teachers had high expectations for me. I still had to be the “example” for my peers. I was expected to model what being a leader and a good student meant.

If I am honest, there were times that I resented the responsibility. I resented the freedom my friends and siblings got to experience. The grace they received when they made mistakes. For a long time, I felt frustrated because I wanted to go outside and play with other kids or go on school field trips with my friends instead of being responsible for my siblings. And there were times It felt as if I was drowning. The pressure felt unbearable. So much of who I was, was built around what everyone expected of me, but I still felt unseen.

During my freshman year of high school, I was introduced to what would become my outlet. I took my first acting class. I learned to express my emotions and release all of the pressure. I could pour my feelings into the characters that I portrayed. Soon after, I began pouring my heart into dance. Performing allowed me to be myself in front of the world and to be seen for just that. It taught me to push through the pain. I also learned to be okay with being the example.

Over the years I learned another way to express myself. This expression was creative writing. It gave me the courage to write what I was afraid to say out loud. I was able to unpack and communicate my feelings. Everyone has their unique form of language to communicate; acting, dancing, and writing are mine.

I carried those lessons with me throughout high school, and it has led to me being an academic leader at my school and graduating with a weighted GPA of 4.15. I push myself to be an example for my peers of what it means to reach for excellence. While in high school I still had my part-time job at the local grocery store; I was a part of The Pantherettes, our school dance team; and I still volunteer to do community service at my local community center.

Last year my siblings and I lost our father. It was at that moment I realized the power of being an example for my siblings. For my siblings, I modeled resilience, no matter how heavy the pressure felt or how deep the pain was. I pushed myself to stay on top of my grades and refused to take a step back from my dreams.

As I continue to embrace what it means to be an “example”, I hope to use my college experience to model for my siblings and all the little girls from my neighborhood what excellence looks like as a first-generation college student. I hope to inspire them to follow their dreams and to be an example.

It is why in the future I see myself as a hardworking criminal defense lawyer. After being a lawyer for a few years my next step is Madam Supreme Court Justice. I will use my ambitiousness to push myself to continue to work hard and be persistent in what I want. I'm determined to change the higher education landscape and prove why I deserve recognition and others because we are the ones who are going to change the world.

When I was in middle school I took a trip to the movie theaters to watch the new movie that came out "Marshall", about Thurgood Marshall an African-American civil rights activist lawyer. It was then I wanted to be a lawyer. Marshall became my idol and with that began my research for law majors and more. My research led me to political science and psychology and I fell in love with them.

I wanted to be just like Marshall in a way. He inspired me to want more in life and to want to help others like me. Majoring in political science will help me study and understand power. Power governs everything around us; society, relationships, etc. There is no “in the future”. It's like saying a dollar tomorrow is worth more than a dollar today… it's not. The dollar today is worth more because I invested in it, years later it will be worth more than a dollar. There is no in the future because I’m already there. And with this in mind, I will achieve Excellence.

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Mehr-Un-Nisa Saeed

Mehr-Un-Nisa Saeed

George Washington University

Mehr-Un-Nisa's Essay

I, similar to many others, grew up with an absent father. He missed almost every moment in my life that meant something special to me. He missed my middle school graduation. He missed every single competition I had. He failed to be present at any parent-teacher conferences. Most especially, his presence in our home was a rare occurrence. My mother, on the other hand, struggled to drive on highways. This meant that I was unable to go to school events or friends’ houses. I felt helpless and unable to make any meaningful connections with kids my age.

My father’s lack of attendance, however, was not the way most would typically imagine. My “Baba”--an Urdu word of endearment for father–was not intentionally missing these milestones in my life. This was something freshman me could not accept. Baba was not missing because he did not want to be there, but because he was busy making a living. In my mind, he could get off of work and come attend every event I wanted him there for. However, he was making the money that bought me the things my heart wished for. An objective he undertook after he struggled to make a living throughout his adult life. While he used to be an attorney in Pakistan, he quit once he realized the corruption it encompassed.

As I grappled with this understanding, I joined my highschool’s Mock Trial team seeking a connection. My intention was to get better with expressing myself whilst making friends. On the way to our first trial, I was extremely nervous. However, these friends that I realized I had made helped me dissolve my anxiety by playing games.

I was not expecting to feel the exhilaration as I stood before a witness and questioned them. Nor did I expect the adrenaline rush when the Judge announced that we had won. In our post-trial meeting, my coach told me that the other team’s coach thought I was a natural. Again, I felt disappointment that my parents were unable to watch me do something I had begun to love.

I went on to intern for our attorney coach at her law firm the summer before senior year. By that point, I knew my dream was to be an attorney. I had decided I wanted to attend George Washington University as I would one day want to practice in DC. When I got my acceptance letter, the first person I shared my dream with was my Baba. When I saw him tear up, I understood. I finally understood that this was why he couldn’t be there. Without a moment’s hesitation, he had accepted my dream.

I am grateful for my team, who helped me realize the joy of leading and doing something I love. But most of all, I am so grateful and fortunate to have the family that I have. The parents who left everything they knew to allow me and my siblings a better life. Should my dream be accomplished, I have every intention of ensuring that my parents never need anything again. Below is an image of my parents and I at my graduation.

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Savannah Fouchi

Savannah Fouchi

Starts college in Fall 2024

Savannah's Essay

Looking back at my many years performing on stage in musical theatre productions, I’ve had the unique privilege to significantly build my leadership skills with my involvement in an annual benefit concert titled “Raise Your Voice”. The concept started 5 years ago when my group of 10 close theater friends came together to raise money for local kids in need by doing what we loved most: performing on stage. Over the years, “Raise Your Voice” has raised over $65,000 for various local youth charities, and it has grown into an annual extravaganza with a full weekend of performances and a waitlist of young performers who want to be involved. For the 5th year in 2022, I was honored to be chosen by my peers to lead them in the biggest event yet. I served as the director, choreographer, musical director, producer, music editor, costumer, and marketing manager. I am exceedingly proud that we raised $18,000 for the Covenant House of New Orleans, a local charity that serves young teenagers experiencing homelessness or human trafficking.

As a multifaceted leader, I recognized the importance of fostering a motivated environment within the team. To achieve this atmosphere, I set reasonable goals for my team, organized regular meetings where team members could openly share ideas and concerns, expressed my appreciation through handwritten thank-you letters, and provided the team with insight into the charity and the profound impact of their dedicated work. Recognizing the value of each person's expertise, I encouraged creative freedom while emphasizing our shared goal of creating a memorable event for a meaningful cause. I even got to work hand in hand with the charity’s director to choose keynote speakers, lead a tour of the facilities for the cast and crew members, and promote the event. This event taught me the true value of effectively working with others to create positive change that extends beyond personal achievements.

The impact of this experience on my leadership style was remarkable. As a performer, I have always found joy in the personal fulfillment of entertaining others. However, "Raise Your Voice" transformed my perspective on the positive impact my craft can have on my community. It was not just about personal satisfaction; it was about using my artistic talents to make a positive change in the lives of young teenagers experiencing homelessness or human trafficking. My mindset evolved from personal fulfillment to a realization of the broader social responsibility that comes with my role as a performer and leader. The donation raised for the Covenant House of New Orleans was not just a monetary achievement but a testament to the positive change that can be achieved through collaborative leadership in the arts.

Looking forward, this experience has inspired me to seek leadership opportunities that align with my passion for inclusivity and positive change. I recognize the importance of using my skills and influence to create environments where everyone feels valued and included. Whether through quarterly meetings, as implemented in my high school theater club, or through future projects college, I am committed to fostering inclusivity and making a lasting impact on the culture of any community I am a part of.

Thank you for the opportunity to apply for this scholarship. On the next few pages, please find some photos from the event, and I’ve compiled a short video about my experience with “Raise Your Voice” here: https://youtu.be/WS-BRKYg-iI

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Dominick Marchetti

Dominick Marchetti

University of Colorado Denver

Dominick's Essay

I practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a quickly growing grappling martial art that contains chokes and submissions. It is said to be one of the most functional martial arts for self-defense. My martial arts journey started in the summer of 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Initially, I began martial arts training to attain self-defense skills, but I have learned so much more.

I started training in the summer of 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. dominick marchetti At that time, masks were required for everything. Masks make exercise, especially aerobic exercise, more challenging because it restricts a person's ability to breathe air. My first jiu-Jitsu class was very aerobically challenging for me (because I had to wear a mask). I was huffing and puffing like the wolf in the Three Little Pigs story, however, I felt more like one of the pigs because I was the least skilled person in the class. It was a difficult start to my martial arts journey. I was learning an important lesson; perseverance. Learning complicated techniques was hard, training with bigger people was hard, and remaining consistent was hard. At first, everything was hard. It was only with time and practice that things grew easier. I persevered through the hard times to attain basic skills.

However, with increased skill, I picked up a bad mindset. I was becoming arrogant. As I became advanced relative to the beginner classes, I began to think that I had it all down. Then the instructors invited me to start attending the advanced classes. In my arrogance, I thought it was going to be plain and simple, like the beginner classes (spoiler alert: it wasn't). The advanced classes were full of higher belts, all of them with twice the jiu-jitsu knowledge I possessed. I got my butt kicked. The techniques became challenging again, and my training partners were years ahead of me. It was like I started all over again. This is where I learned humility. I humbled myself to where I admitted my ignorance. Once I did this, I enabled myself to fail and then learn. While the advanced classes are still challenging, I'm now able to learn from them without damaging my ego.

Martial arts taught me the virtues of humility and perseverance. Perseverance is essential to any success. In order to attain self-defense knowledge, I had to go through the pains of training in jiu-jitsu. Without the willpower to experience the growing pains of learning, I would never java progressed. Learning perseverance has prepared me for facing the challenges of school, work, and home life. However, without humility, I could never bring myself to persevere. In jiu-jitsu, I learned to recognize my ignorance of complicated techniques and allowed myself to improve on them. Learning humility has allowed me to see my shortcomings and face them head-on with perseverance. While I am unsure of what is to come, I am assured by the virtues of perseverance and humility that I am prepared to face the challenges of the future.

Katie Thibeault

Katie Thibeault

Idaho State University

Katie's Essay

In my Freshman year of high school, I went to school for three months before I decided that life wasn't worth living. Due to the severe depression that I was faced with, I missed six months of school. My grandma came to live with us during this time so there was someone to stay at home with me. By month five, my family had a meeting with the school administration where they threatened to send my mom to jail if she didn't make me go to school. This school was her place of work. I felt like I was destroying the family. To make matters worse, around month four, I found out that my parents were suing each other over custody of me for the second time. I was having panic attacks every night at the thought of going to school the next day. I didn't know what to do. One day, my mom took me to school to have lunch, not to attend any classes. She took me down to the arts department. She introduced me to the drama teacher and the art teacher, who happened to be working together for the end of year musical. I told the principal I'd go to one class a day of my choosing if they didn't reprimand my mom. He agreed. So I tried the drama class for a day. The first acting exercise gave me a panic attack. So then I tried the level four art class for a day. The teacher let me choose my own project, sit in the back of the room and work at my own speed. That's how I finished my freshman year of high school.

Over the summer, I was able to relax. I reevaluated what was actually important to me rather than what everyone was telling me was important. I rediscovered my love for music, singing and dancing. These wonderful things that I'd forgotten because my ‘friends' didn't like them. One day in the car with my mom, she pointed out that I'd watched ‘Newsies the Musical' forty two times during those six months. She asked why. I stuttered through my answer, "It's a group of kids who make a difference. It's a bunch of people who don't care if the world sees them singing and dancing. They love what they do and I want to do that."

She joked, "You could probably perform the whole show by yourself." Musicals had become my source of comfort during those six months. I'd sing to myself and play pretend. It was an escape and a cathartic release. Someone had to be the main character, someone had to save the day, there was always a song with exactly the words you wanted to say and I know that life isn't that way but you can run wild in a world that is. That's how I joined my small town's theater department. Low and behold, the musical for my Sophomore year was none other than Newsies. I was a newsie. My mission for that year was to throw everything I had into the arts department. It was my only lifeline. I ignored the stares and the questions, the rumors about my absence. In some cases, I quite literally hid from them in the drama classroom. I became a member of the Art Club, Photography Club, and eventually, President of the Drama Club. Art saved my life.

My drama teacher urged me into competitions, as did my art teacher. I costumed shows, I built props and set pieces all the while the court case with my parents raged on in the back of my mind. My drama teacher pulled me aside one day to ask how it was going and I broke down in her arms. She pulled me into her office to talk. "I want you to take all of that emotion and write a piece with it." She was asking me to enter the Solo Serious Original category for the High School Drama Competition. I thought she was crazy, I was mad at her for suggesting it. Still, I couldn't help but think she was right. The lawyers get to prepare cases for the lawsuit, wasn't it fair that I prepare something?

I wrote out everything that I wanted to say as if I was talking to the judge. Despite my reservations in the beginning, I performed the piece for my class. Three students cried and one of them left the room. I had no idea that I was right next to people going through similar things. I took the piece all the way to state finals and eventually to the witness stand my junior year. That piece, the one that I'd performed so many times, made the judge cry. After four years of dragging the lawsuit out, it took the judge one hour to decide that I was old enough to make my own decisions. Art gave me a leg to stand on, it gave me a voice and helped me find where I belonged. It showed me that I wasn't alone, I was just in a box.

Though Brooke and I did not qualify for ICDC (nationals) I can proudly say we were finalists in Colorado States Deca Chapter for our INtegrated Marketing Campaign and scored higher than a 90 on our presentation. Though I do know DECA is not specifically a speech club. There is nothing quite like it. Because I can confidently say when I was at my worst this is what brought me back to myself and problem a better version. When you gain conversation, communication, and presentation skills that are able to persuade people into opening up to your ideas it builds a level of confidence and security in oneself and I don't think I had that at any point in my life. And I'm glad I was able to develop those skills because I can take it and use it throughout undergraduate school, Law school , and my future career.

Samariah Robinson

Samariah Robinson

Grand Canyon University

Samariah's Essay

My last year of high school is a year I won't be able to erase from my memory for many reasons. In the beginning of that first semester, I had overdosed. No. I do not have a drug problem or an association with taking any kind of substances not prescribed by my doctor. Which was exactly the citation. During a particularly rough period financially and socially (mainly due to domestic circumstances) my health had gradually worsened. Having daily chronic migraines of no cause does harm itself but when you add stress among other factors migraines can be quite debilitating in everyday life. And so one particular day I physically couldn't get out of bed so I took medicine. I took more. And more. Until I woke up days later in the hospital with absolutely no idea of what was going on (I would larter find out I stopped breathing many times and had to be airlifted to a hospital and then put in the ICU). I was hospitalized for 2 and ½ weeks. I wasn't too focused on the part of actually being in the hospital; it was more the part of missing loads of assignments from my AP classes and having a severe case of FOMO. But those 2 weeks changed me significantly. I stopped replying to messages after day 2 because I could feel myself slip away from reality and away from myself. How could I have done something so stupid? Why did I have to be the one with this unmanageable unsolvable "disability" my doctors liked to call it.

When it was time to return to school I think that was more painful than the IV and blood treatments I received everyday. Friends didn't feel like friends. And my dormant anxiety was clearly plastered on my face as I walked the halls because all the people and noise was too stimulating. I wore big boxy headphones as my shield to push through the hallways. The class I loved but then learned to dread was advanced marketing because Mrs. Valentine always wanted us to get up and talk to each other, to present, and inspire each other. And after my experience in the hospital I had no inspiration for life to give. But no matter how much I used my silence as a voice of aggravation she pushed and pushed. And while I was sure I was going to close my DECA chapter early because of lack of motivation she argued otherwise. And so I found myself partnered with a girl I went to highschool with for 4 years yet never said a word to, Brooke Smith. And we were going to be partners in the Colorado Deca State Integrated Marketing Campaign.

We had to develop a 15 minute pitch and proposal to convince random judges to invest into a business we chose and we had chosen a clinic called Tepeyac in Denver, Colorado whose sole mission was to provide pro bono care for the homeless and low income. I had never in my history of education had to prepare a speech that long to present without no cards or a slideshow. The only helping hand was a board we designed that only displayed powerful imagery to appeal to the judges rhetorical appeals, specifically pathos. So we started Brooke and I practiced every lunch period before our AP Biology class and every single night before bed (because we also learned in psychology the brain can better store information before sleep). And with every practice of speech we found ourselves less and less confident of our pitch. And when the days of our competition approached we stayed up in our hotel room (keeping our third roommate very much awake) continuously practicing our speech because there was no choice but to get it down.

Though Brooke and I did not qualify for ICDC (nationals) I can proudly say we were finalists in Colorado States Deca Chapter for our INtegrated Marketing Campaign and scored higher than a 90 on our presentation. Though I do know DECA is not specifically a speech club. There is nothing quite like it. Because I can confidently say when I was at my worst this is what brought me back to myself and problem a better version. When you gain conversation, communication, and presentation skills that are able to persuade people into opening up to your ideas it builds a level of confidence and security in oneself and I don't think I had that at any point in my life. And I'm glad I was able to develop those skills because I can take it and use it throughout undergraduate school, Law school , and my future career.

Teagan Salo

Teagan Salo

Arizona State University

Teagan's Essay

How has participation in activities such as scouts, acting, debate, and/or speech helped you get through difficult periods of your life, build leadership skills, or prepared you for success in the future?

I was a quiet child. I was anxious and shy, never wanting to bring too much attention to myself. I was happy to stick to playing with my few friends and escaping into the worlds of my books. Teagan SaloThat was until fifth grade. I joined an after-school theatre program that was putting on a non-musical version of "Aladdin". The show was nothing special, but it sparked something deep within me. All it took was playing the role of Jafar at ten years old to set me off on the path of the thespian. Through middle school, I only acted in one more show, but I yearned for the stage all the while. When it came time for me to step into the treacherous four-year-long stint of high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I switched from my liberal arts charter school to a public high school simply so I could pursue my love for the stage in one of the best drama clubs in the state. At first, it was rough. During my freshman year of high school, I was just like I was as a child: quiet, nervous, and avoiding the eyes of others. Over the next three years, though, I blossomed. I blossomed in every way a person could. Theatre taught me that it was okay to take up space, to be seen. Theatre taught me to want to be seen. I went from a meek girl, curling in on herself at auditions out of fear, to the leading lady of my senior show, playing a Disney princess.Teagan Salo Theatre saved me in every way a person can be saved. Even at my lowest points I always knew that I had a second home waiting for me that was free of every pressure the outside world put on me. My time in drama club taught me to know my own worth at a time when I thought I had none. For that alone, I am forever in debt to the stage.

Taylor Thompson

Taylor Thompson

University of California Irvine

Taylor's Essay

Lying in bed, with freshly divorced parents, homework needing to be done, thinking about all the things I could be doing, and asking myself, "what is the point of all this?" as my motivation hits an all-time low. Seeing everyone around me have drive, a place to go, and a purpose makes me feel useless. However, I realized those people around me with a plan and a place to go were told what they should do and where to go to make the best life for them. They were told what success should look like and they were told just to put their head down and work, and the thought of doing that frightens me. This idea seems like I will be nothing more than a corporate nine-to-five worker, fulfilling my obligations, but not myself. Despite these thoughts, I decided I didn't have to have this kind of future. I could create my own version of success. But I also needed to figure out what that was to me. Fast forward a few weeks, I am out of bed, homework done, and working towards a newly found passion that would quickly become my purpose. But what caused this sudden motivation and fire in me?

The blaze set fire to me when I realized I would be the first person in my family to attend college and be the first person in my family to pursue something that I'm actually passionate about, a career in the film and television industry. As time has passed, it's become more than just something I want to accomplish; it is my life goal. All the things that come along with this "long shot" keep the fire going and a definition for my version of success came to me. For instance, when I told people I wanted to have a career in the film industry, they would say that I was crazy and "It's a one in a million chance." But I would tell them, "I'm going to be that one," this quote creates eagerness to build my career so that I can reach my goals and show people that I am capable of doing it. This created a carving and drive for success that I so desperately needed. I know I can be that "one" because of my determination, and nothing will get in my way. This laser focus proves to me and other people that I can do it, that I can be successful. Yet, proving that I could make a career in the film and television industry was not the biggest reason I wanted to do it.

When I think about acting, I think about telling a story influenced by life, about characters inspired by people, and figuring out how to play those characters, tell the story of their life, and impact someone is why I get so excited about acting. However, I need to learn more about the industry to become that storyteller. I want to learn all aspects of the industry, in front and behind the camera. Butterflies dance in my stomach when I think about learning to act, direct, and produce movies. It gives me a sense of independence and it gives me a feeling that I am so close to being successful. It makes me want to work as hard as possible to create art through film and learn about acting through theater. It makes me want to weave all my other hobbies, interests, and experiences into something to create beautiful stories that move and motivate people. That inspires someone like me to get out of bed, find their passion, and go after it.

Now that I have that motivation to go out there and achieve my goals, I will not stop until I do. That drive and that hustle I have is how I define success and always wanting to go out there to make my dreams come true is what I think it takes to be successful. I am the first in my family to have such high goals and such determination to reach them. My mom went to trade school for hair and my dad delivers for a distributor, so they both went into the workforce after they graduated high school and have been doing what they do for over 20 years. They always tell me about the dreams they had when they were my age and how they never had the opportunity to reach them. To me, this is how unsuccess is defined and I think they just view my goals as dreams, and on repeat I hear "dreams are not real life, you need to have a back up plan, I don't want you to be working at a job that you'll be stuck in." I understand why they worry, and that I do need a back up plan, but I don't want to live in regret and I don't want to be defined as unsuccessful. Being stuck in a job that I hate for 20 years is my worst nightmare. My goals are not just little dreams, and I don't just wait for opportunities to come my way, I create my own. I create my own success and I will do whatever I have to, to get there. My parents never went to college, so they don't understand the amount of work I do by simply applying myself and working as hard as I do so that I can gain that success. Success is something I crave and I need to show them that I can do it. But the pressure that I put on myself is starting to make me anxious, because I know I am on the verge of reaching my goals and being the first person in my family to go to college, be successful and set a standard for my little sister and my future children. I am taking the steps to better my future, and I will continue to chase my "dreams" and gain that success that I crave so much. This is why I know I deserve to win this scholarship, because I have the motivation and the ambition to get to a place of success. It would mean the world to me to win this scholarship, just so I can prove that myself.

Amber Braswell

Amber Braswell

Kent State University

Amber's Essay

My life during high school was unconventional, to say the least; when I signed up for Drama as my elective freshman year, I saw it as an easy A and just a class I knew I'd have with my friends. I look back at those four years I spent in theater and believe if I had taken any other elective I would have dropped out and only have a GED today instead of my diploma. The theater program, and everyone I met along the way, welcomed me from day one with open arms (okay, it was more like jazz hands- but you get the idea), until it was time to go center stage, take a bow, and say goodbye to that part of my life at graduation. The impact theater had on my life, the skills I have learned, and challenges I faced were a major influence on me, and why I never gave up and ultimately obtained my diploma a semester early.

High School can be tough on anyone, it's a major transition from being a child, having a mandatory school schedule, and relying on parents/guardians to live; to then be expected to know how to take care of yourself and begin your life as an ‘adult' while still being restricted or punished by adults. Most students experience those four years as a time to figure out who they are, what they want to do, and what career they want to pursue. I was the average high school girl; I had a few friends, had my crushes, did my homework, and worried about my grades and future just like everyone else. However, when the last bell rang and everyone went back to their lives, I stayed for any afterschool activity knowing I had no idea if I'd have a place to eat or sleep that night. Each day I had to find a way to sleep at a friend's house, on an acquaintance's couch, a truck bed in the school parking lot, or somewhere like a park bench as a last resort. I would stay at school if I could volunteer and help build sets, make costumes, clean the stage, rehearse, etc. If I wasn't running lines or building a set, I would be at Swim and Water Polo practice instead.

The theater became my home, and my classmates were like a supportive family. I was taught valuable skills such as; how to work both alone and with a team, how to communicate with others, how important tone of voice and body language is, how to control and separate personal and professional life, how to project and speak with confidence, how to listen and understand others when they speak, how to read between the lines and interpret people's emotions, how important word choice is and its ability to carry weight, how to follow deadlines and manage time efficiently, and how to take risks and never waste an opportunity by not trying. I grew up without a voice, and a personal life filled with hardships and abuse. When I stepped foot on the stage it would give me a moment of peace; I was able to be whoever I wanted to be without the weight of my life holding me back. The overall lesson I learned through performing arts is that there is nothing we cannot do; no matter what hand we were dealt with at birth, no matter the circumstances and hardships that are thrown our way, we can be whoever we chose to be. We write our own script, we are the lead role in our lives, and when something unexpected changes the script we say, "Yes, and..." to that situation. Things will happen that are out of our control that do not make sense. Instead of neglecting them, we can choose to improvise and accept the situation in front of us. We control how we react; our reaction can change the course of our script whether it works toward getting back on track, continuing the same path you have written- or you stop and rewrite your script. Find a new way to end our stories with no unanswered questions and no regrets. That has been the biggest lesson I've learned; I have rewritten my script multiple times and will continue to rewrite it until I find my best ending. Don't be afraid to improvise, you might find yourself in an ending better than anything you could have ever predicted.

Gabriella Mullis

Gabriella Mullis

Embry Riddle Aeronautical University

Gabriella's Essay

I appreciate that The Gold Law Firm The Gold Law Firm is honored to offer scholarship awards to freshmen who have spent their early education taking part in challenging skill-building activities such as Scouts. It has not been easy, but I have done my best to give 100% each day, make a positive impact in the lives of those around me even as life dealt me devastating loss, multiple injuries and giving back to my community.

I learned at a young age the importance of sharing my time, my talent, and my treasures with others. I have been a Girl Scout since I was 5 years old. Ms. Patty, my Troop Leader for ten of my 12 years in Girl Scouts taught us what it means to be a Girl Scout and encouraged us to make our community and the world a better place. Each fun activity went hand in hand with a community service project. My troop has participated in events such as Scouting for a Cure, playing bingo with the residents of a nursing home and the local Christmas parade. We have packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child and volunteered at the Charlotte, NC Processing Center. I was beginning to understand what she meant by giving back and started looking for ways to do just that. My troop earned its bronze award by cleaning up the Fairy Village at Camp Occoneechee. I teamed up with a fellow Girl Scout to organize, promote and collect books for our school library to earn my silver award. My gold award addressed an issue personal to me - alcohol abuse and its effects on families. I have also served in the Kids Ministry, Drama Ministry and Seniors Ministry at Harvest Community Church. I enjoyed spending time with the little ones and the young at heart and being on stage sharing the good news.

My mom and I stepped out of our comfort zone when I joined Girl Scouts as a kindergartner. We learned a lot about ourselves and each other. She does not like camping. I do not think she ever will. She went with us anyway. We slept in cabins with running water and bathrooms as Daisies and Brownies. She was known to bring cleaning supplies, bug sprays and moth balls on camping trips. She would inspect, clean and critter proof our tents / cabins before we could unload our gear from the vehicles. Then there were a few trips that involved tents. That meant no running water or bathrooms. It was hot and sticky, there were bugs and critters. To go to the bathroom, you had to take a friend and venture through the woods. She was a trooper. I honestly think she enjoyed most of the trips. I don't think she will ever admit it.

"Cookie Mom" was in the zone when it was time to sell Girl Scout cookies. Her plan involved spreadsheets with formulas to track sales and project demand and tricks for securing cookie booths. My troop was one of the highest selling troops in our Service unit. For several years I was one of the top selling girls in our service unit, selling thousands of boxes of cookies. We adopted the post office motto - "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night." My time as a Girl Scout especially selling cookies has served me well in my part time jobs during high school working for Levy Restaurants and Falls Jewelers and as the ERAU FL Women's Volleyball Student Team Manager.

The days and weeks after my dad's sudden passing in April 2020 were a blur. His loss left a hole in my heart that can never be filled. There are tears. There is sadness. There are many unanswered questions. I learned a lot about my dad's alcohol abuse after he died. I remember some situations from my childhood. I was struggling. I could not believe my dad was gone. I was angry. Why did this happen to my dad? I knew I needed to do something. I decided to make lemonade from the lemons that life had given me. My search for answers and my curiosity about alcohol abuse led to The Tommy Project, my Girl Scout Gold Award in honor of my dad Tommy. And I knew that I wanted to share my story with others to inspire them to seek the much-needed help for their loved one.

Many people helped me along the way to ultimately connect with Rachel Berg, Student Assistance Program Specialist with Cabarrus County Schools to make The Tommy Project, my personal story about my dad's battle with alcoholism a part of the Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco units in middle schools. Health teachers have the option to opt into sharing with their students. The Tommy Project is posted on the Student Services Substance Abuse Prevention Resources section on the Cabarrus County Schools website. Teachers can coordinate with school counselors / social worker to support students and provide contact information for resources supporting students/families if someone is looking for help.

Through The Tommy Project I have learned how to take an idea and work through actionable steps to develop my project. Some of those skills included research, written and verbal communication, active listening, acceptance of constructive criticism and problem solving. As The Tommy Project became a reality I developed public speaking, time management, leadership, planning and decision-making skills. I was recognized by Cabarrus County Schools as an Impact Through Education winner in May 2022 for my work on The Tommy Project. The recognition received for The Tommy Project is bittersweet. I wish my dad were here to share in the special milestones in my life so far – learning to drive a car, getting my driver's license, Senior Prom, High School graduation and moving off to college. I will consider The Tommy Project a success if just one person reaches out to a teacher, staff member, guidance counselor, mental health professional or substance abuse professional seeking help for themselves or a loved one.

I am excited about the possibility that The Gold Law Firm through the Challenge Yourself Scholarship may invest in my future at ERAU Florida where I am a freshman studying Homeland Security. I envision a safer, more secure tomorrow, and see myself in some capacity of security. There will be resources and opportunities available to gain hands on experience outside of the classroom through internships. A study abroad or two with Department faculty led summer trips to countries where the opportunity to attend workshops, seminars and behind the scenes tours of security related facilities to learn firsthand how other nations and companies deal with current security issues excites me!

I would like to close with a few words of wisdom that have guided and continue to guide me in the classroom, in the community and on the playing field. Make time to thank those who have helped you get to where you are today. Do not take anything or anyone for granted. Control the controllable. Be compassionate. Be humble. And finally, respect authority, use resources wisely, and make the world a better place. Imagine what our schools, our workplaces, our communities, and the world would be like if we encouraged one another, showed each other mutual respect, and celebrated successes.


Megan "Liz" Matthews

Lehigh University

Megan's Essay

For many years after the most traumatic experience of my life, I didn't talk about what happened—not because I didn't want to, or I didn't recognize that it wasn't my fault, but because I was ashamed. Ashamed of how people would treat me if they knew who I really was: not funny, nor pretty, nor smart, but broken. I was extremely lucky to be born into a healthy childhood. Both of my parents were around, and the first thing they ever taught me was love. They loved me, they loved each other, and they loved the world. As I grew up I fell in love with the world too.

Then the dynamics changed. My dad changed. In about five whirlwind years, this idyllic childhood melted into a hellish nightmare. First, he was uncharacteristically reckless with money, developed severe paranoia, and even had hallucinations. He filed for divorce, totaled multiple cars in one year, and received three restraining orders. It took two years of fear and confusion for us to discover he wasn't a bad person—he had a brain disease. After his diagnosis, his mind disintegrated further. We worried he would forget how to eat and choke to death. Eventually his ability to speak was fading, and then the doctors warned us not to be surprised if one day he didn't recognize us. I witnessed the humorous spark in my dad's eyes slowly die out, replaced with the glassy, lifeless stare of a zombie. Paradoxically, the most life-changing event I've faced is death itself.

As I look back nearly seven years later, I realize that the loss itself wasn't the only surprising outcome of this real-life soap opera. There are the Thanksgivings with one empty chair, the New Yearses with no soulmate to kiss my mom—but there is also my own self-growth. Losing my dad opened me up to a whole new world of suffering and grief, but it also opened me up to a whole new world of courage and compassion.

The future is uncertain as well. My dad had frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), a form of dementia. There is no cure, no approved treatments, and it is terminal. There is a 50% chance that I inherited that mutation and it's the same for my sister. There are few things worse than our 1-in-2 chances of having his fate.

In spite of the statistics, I have immense hope. This sinister reminder of my own mortality is also quite empowering. After all, my lifespan is limited regardless of genetics. My story shows me how I want to better the world. To begin with, FTD is rare. I want to raise awareness and let those in the trenches know that they aren't alone. Neurological diseases overall are stigmatized alongside trauma. Thus, while I struggled to understand what happened, I was pressured to stay quiet; now I want to disassemble the stigma and create spaces where trauma isn't shameful. My greatest goal—my life's goal—is to find a cure for FTD. I wonder if it's coincidental that the brain has always fascinated me.

In order to achieve a goal as immense as curing a rare disease, I realized that I needed to be able to communicate why it mattered to me—and this meant letting light reflect on my past rather than hiding it behind the curtain. My work involving speech began with a focus on fundraising, which necessarily involved telling both people I knew and strangers about what I had been through. My fundraising efforts ranged from the Charity Miles app to the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration (AFTD)'s With Love and Food For Thought campaigns. I have walked, biked, and ran nearly 3,000 miles, custom-designed and sold clothing, distributed flyers, ran an Instagram fundraising page, hosted multiple cooking shows in Ecuador, and even walked a people-loving baby cow around my area. In 28 days nearly $6,000 was raised. I expected to raise some money, hopefully $500, and this goal was far surpassed; the greatest serendipity, though, was the connections with people I had never met before. Complete strangers opened up to me about their loved ones with other forms of dementia, and one woman was a degenerative diseases graduate student who requested a flier for her class. My two aims were to gain donations and raise awareness, but in hindsight I did so much more than that: I provided the space for people to freely admit that they were struggling too, and to feel comfortable within that uncertainty.

I'm also writing a book about my dad. My goal is to explore what it means to be human through a lens that simultaneously shares his legacy. For parts of the book involving FTD, I've been interviewing caregivers to tell FTD's full, individual-specific story. It has been humbling to hear the stories from people who are living my past, and I've been reminded of how listening is just as valuable as speech. I also plan on traveling to Iceland and other countries to interview strangers about these emotions and experiences relevant to my dad's life and their cultural perceptions.

My favorite project thus far was my talk, "Falling in Love With the World." I shared my own story regarding my dad, but then I discussed lessons that I've learned since.

My first topic was shame—how I spent years hiding from my past because I didn't want to be treated differently if people knew I had depression, or to become "the girl whose dad died"; how I realized that to make a difference I had to own up to the truth. Then I discussed empathy, ambivalence, and "positivity is complicated." I closed with my favorite topic. My dad's life taught me how to fall in love with the world, but his death taught me how to fall in love with the worldagain—even when love feels like a foreign tongue. I learned to love fiercely, wildly, unconditionally, to fight the fight of your life with love as the weapon. This form of speech surprised me the most. I spoke to people who I had known for years, many of whom had known me since the time when my dad was healthy, but in talking I felt as if I had surpassed the formalities that had spent so long developing. I no longer felt like "this girl at school," and certainly not like "the girl whose dad died." I felt liberated— welcomed. I only wish that my audiences felt the same way.

One day my brain may fall apart, whether from FTD or otherwise; one day I could end up as shattered and disheveled as my dad once did. But by then I will have lived a worthwhile life. I am studying my love, neuroscience, and necessarily continuing to practice communication and speech. From these practices, I hope that future girls like me will see their dads at graduation; and for anyone who does face trauma, that there is enough empathy to set them free. I hope that one day everyone will have the courage to fall in love with the world again.

Amanda Benzenhafer

Amanda Benzenhafer

University of Arkansas

Amanda's Essay

Sometimes life likes to throw us a little curveball. It always seems to happen at the most unwarranted moments. Just when life seems to be flowing consistently in a positive direction, everything falls out of place, and before we even realize, it comes to a screeching halt. And, unless we discover a healthy outlet, coming out of the darkness can seem nearly impossible. For me, Girl Scouts was the light at the end of the tunnel.

I was a part of Troop 30923 for ten years. That is ten years of friendships with some of the most wonderful women on earth. That is ten years of memories that included everything from cookie sales to Disney. That is ten years of highs and lows that I wouldn't trade for the world. Troop 30923 saved me from one of the worst times in my life.

On October 13th, 2021, as I was getting ready to leave the last class of the day and go to soccer practice, I received a text from my father. My stomach immediately formed a knot at the simplicity of the message. Skip Practice and go straight home, was all it said. I tried to hold back tears as something inside kept telling me it was my mother, even though I refused to listen. I drove the 15 minutes back home in silence with my younger brother in the passenger seat. When we got there, we sat on the couch, anxiously awaiting my father's arrival. It seemed as if time was crawling, although we couldn't have been waiting for more than five minutes. And, finally, when he walked in the door, I could only stare at him.

My father's eyes were glassy as if he were holding back tears. He placed his lunchbox cooler on the ground, as he did every other day and walked over to us sitting on the couch. The only thing he said was, "I got a call about your mother today. They don't know how long she has left." Tears streamed down my face as I searched for my coat, although I could hardly see past the wells of water forming in my eyes.

The drive to the hospital was about an hour long, yet the only thing I remember was praying that she would be alive when we got there. She was lying there helplessly in the ICU. Now, I knew my mother was sick. I knew she had cancer. I knew it wasn't good, but she never told us how bad it was. I don't think she wanted us to know. And, two days later, she was gone.

It didn't feel like she was gone. It felt like she would walk in the door at any moment. It felt like the next phone call I got would be her telling me she'll be home late. It felt like I could look over and she would be on the sidelines cheering me on. And, somedays, it still does.

Although I cherish the memories of my mother, it saddened me to think of her. Thus, I never wanted to. I searched for an outlet. An escape from reality. Something that brought me joy. Somewhere that I wouldn't be pitied. Someone who wouldn't walk on eggshells because of my mother's death. The only place that seemed to encompass all of that was my Girl Scout Troop.

We met every other Friday. I always looked forward to going because it was a place where I could be my loud, talkative, and sarcastic self without the pity of my past. Going to Girl Scouts was a break from reality. I didn't have guidance counselors hunting me down in school making sure I was okay. I didn't have teachers being softer on me because they felt sorry. I didn't have friends who were worried about saying the word mom near me. Girl Scouts was a place where I wasn't coddled for my life. They treated me just as I wanted to be treated, like an ordinary high school student.

As the days turned into weeks and then into months, so did my healing journey. I clung to the core values of my troop: service, courage, and character. I leaned on the service to build courage. The courage to think about my mom. The courage to talk about my mom. The courage to continue enjoying the activities we had appreciated together. And through that, I believe that I have developed a stronger character. One that isn't afraid of the obstacles or the hurt, but one that can accomplish anything. Because, in the end, "Life will always throw you curve balls. It's your job to swing the bat" (Sharon Purtill).

Clancy Larsen

Clancy Larsen

Arizona State University

Clancy's Essay

I, like many others, am a child of divorce. My parents split up when I was around 13, and for about a years before that my mother was not a huge part of my life. As many know this experience is awful, it can be wildly damaging to a young man like myself. It was awful and it was hurtful, however I had access to a resource in my community that others did not, The Boy Scouts of America. I love the outdoors, as well as the various survival activities of scouts, but the most impactful part of that program where the people it brought into my life. My family and community had been involved in scouting for many generations, and so my participation felt obligatory at best and a burden at worst. That is, until during the middle of my parent's separations and issues we moved down to Arizona. Once we had relocated scouting became a way for me to make connections and friendships that where hard to make during this period of my life. The scouting program also introduced two remarkable men into my life. These men where my two main scouting leaders, and now very dear mentors and friends.

When I first met these men, I was a mess. As previously mentioned, my home life was in turmoil; lacking half of the parental guidance that I had once had. However, my new scouting leaders became a rock in my life. Every Wednesday I knew I would have scouts, and the opportunity for stability. Beyond that, the scout masters took so much time out of their week to make sure that I was doing well. They would come to my house and talk with my family and I; they'd bring us treats, they'd have dinners with us, they'd always go above and beyond for me. These two men also taught me major life skills, not just how to tie confusing knots. From them I learned what it was to be inclusive to others, as well as how to help comfort and maximize someone's potential. Not only that, but also how to change a tire and make the best s'mores! Also, as a part of scouting the troop and I would go camping. We went all over Arizona, from Flagstaff to Payson, and everywhere in between. These trips would include epic adventures from hiking and backpacking, all the way to exploring lava tubes and cave complexes. Beyond the fun, there would be campfires, jokes, and such genuine connection with each other, that we all formed very close relationships. At the head of all this was scoutmaster Matt and Alex, always there, always helping, not matter what.

Now eventually all good things come to an end, and this troop dissolved after a time. Yet, these years as a scout are very important to me. I couldn't tie a half decent knot or weave a basket, but I can form genuine connection with others, and I have learned the value of compassion. In the years since the troop dissolved, we have stayed close, I live down the street from my old scoutmasters. We see one another often, and I'm grateful they are in my life. In the good times and the bad times, I have felt their love and support, and I am so grateful I was able to spend so much time with them. This time with them has imparted with a profound knowledge of leadership; in caring and being involved with those you lead, you become an effective leader. A leader doesn't coerce his followers into things, he guides and supports them, he meets them where they are to lift them to where they can be. A leader must care.

Below is an image of me and fellow troop members at scout camp. In this picture I am suffering from food poisoning, and bad dehydration. You will also notice I look happy to be there. And I was. I may have been sick as a dog, but these people and their support made me happy as could be!

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