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2009 Grand Prize - Essay

Tyler Leifeste

Scholarship Amount: $5,000

Hometown: Orange, TX - School: Angelina Junior College

My name is Tyler Samuel Leifeste. I am an 18 year old senior at Community School in Orange, Texas. I was 12 and my sister was 9 years old when my father passed away of complication from a routine surgery. My father was my best friend, confidant and mentor. When he passed away, I saw no reason for living. I did not know how I would ever make it in life without him. Within one year of losing my father, my mother was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive type of breast cancer. She had to endure almost two years of aggressive cancer treatment. Thankfully, she survived her ordeal and is healthy today. My mother is a very strong woman and continued to work throughout our time of grief after my father’s death, as well as during her cancer treatment. She never complained to my sister and me or allowed us to act like “victims.” She kept our home in order and encouraged us to “carry on,” to “overcome our obstacles,” and to “always look for the good in every situation.” My mother is an amazing woman and an inspiration to many. I do not believe that my sister completely understood the magnitude of our situation, however. Although my mother did a wonderful job protecting me from it, I was old enough to grasp a bit better the magnitude of our father’s loss, both emotionally and financially.

Both of my parents were college graduates. For as long as I can remember, college was discussed as an understood part of our future. After my father’s death and her recovery from breast cancer, I noticed that my mother began working more days per week. She never complained but I now know that there was some life insurance coverage, but not near enough to begin to cover what my father would have generated and contributed to the family had he survived. I began to realize that things were tougher on my mother than she ever shared with us. Although her cancer doctors recommended she take more time off, she continued to work throughout her treatment.

I am thankful that my mother has instilled within me the importance of a college education. I am very aware that the monies she has saved have come at a tremendous price. For that reason, I am hesitant to “go away” to college. I plan to attend, and have been accepted to Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, about 30 miles away from home. I am certain that I will receive a wonderful education there.

On September 13, 2008, our family home in Bridge City, Texas was completely destroyed along with all of our possessions by Hurricane Ike. Although we had excellent homeowners insurance, we were underinsured by the flood policy. Having never experienced a flood before, we, along with most in our community, were not prepared for the devastating losses we experienced. We will once again overcome we will survive… we will rebuild.

I wish every day that my father would have survived and wonder what life would be like if he were here. As my father often said, “life can either make you bitter or it can make you better” “me, I choose to be better.” Today, I choose to be a better man because of the obstacles that my family has had to overcome. I must make the very best of every situation that this life brings my way. I desire to capitalize upon the opportunities that are before me. Although each of our experiences has been devastating, we are over comers and are rising above our difficulties. Because of what I have watched my mother endure, I plan to purchase more life insurance (and flood insurance) in order to protect my family in the event of a tragic loss.

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2009 Top Recipients