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2013 First Runner Up - Essay

Joshua Thomas

Scholarship Amount: $7,500

Hometown: Leawood, KS - School: Dartmouth College

I am Wolf Clan, Seneca Nation, Iroquois League. My late father grew up on the Cattaraugus Reservation in New York. He and my uncle were the first in their family to go to college. But very few of my friends know about my ancestry. I live in Kansas, first designated as Indian Territory in 1825. Despite the state’s rich connection to my heritage, modern Kansas retains scant references to its past. Our postal designation and adjacent school district is Shawnee Mission but I don’t know another student of Native American ancestry at my high school, other than my little sister. My stepdad is from indigenous Kansas stock, his grandfather was a cattle rancher with a huge spread in El Dorado. I use the term indigenous ironically; that is what people mean here when they talk about Native Kansans the early ranchers, not the Kansa and Osage tribes.

My father passed away from chronic alcoholism during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. I was angry because my father’s family perpetuated a culture of heavy drinking with tragic consequences through the generations. I was angry because I missed so many of the things he wanted to teach me.

But, I was angry about something else. I was angry that my father failed to provide for me. He likely knew he was dying, but he carelessly allowed his life insurance premiums to lapse. When he passed, we thought he had significant coverage, but learned instead that he had set nothing aside for us, for our education, for our future. This was a man who knew better, who had a law degree from Stanford. And now, in the most ironic circularity, I am awaiting admission to Stanford, relying on the generosity of others to help fund my college dreams.

I have already been accepted to Dartmouth and University of Chicago, so I know my college education will be peerless and expensive. To that end, my mother worked longer than she had planned. My little sister got a job the day she turned 16. We rely on Social Security and a military pension from my retired stepfather (age 68). I have worked since the day I turned 16, now working at least 20 hours each week as a computer programmer for a tech start-up, while balancing eight AP classes and community service. I landed the job during my MIT interview because the interviewer was impressed with my work ethic and technical skills. I am seriously considering applying to ROTC, to help fund my room and board, travel expenses and book and computer costs.

My point: the lack of proper planning and adequate life insurance coverage devastates all families… even families that, from a distance, appear placid and immutable. The unanticipated and unwanted consequences arising out of improper life insurance planning do not affect only lower income students. Sadly, poor planning does not discriminate; it adversely affects the lives of all who should have been provided for.

You can help students like Joshua make their dream of a college education come true by donating to the nonprofit Life Lessons Scholarship fund. Donate here.

2013 Top Recipients