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2013 First Runner Up - Essay

Zach Willard

Scholarship Amount: $7,500

Hometown: Johns Creek, GA - School: Auburn University

My dad died suddenly at 4pm on a Monday in a car accident. I was 8 weeks old. People ask if I miss him, but how can you miss something you never had? I’m sad to have never had many of the experiences my friends had with their dads. My mom became my dad, teaching me to ride a bike and throw a ball—though it took more practice to not throw like a girl.

Being so young, I grew up not knowing the struggles my mom went through to provide for the 2 of us. She hid it well.

I was too young to understand the consequences of the Post-it note she found on his desk, reminding him to increase insurance for baby. He did have life insurance, but it was a small policy for a young couple just starting out, without children and large responsibilities. It helped pay off some bills, but left nothing for college, another mouth to feed, or basic living expenses. That Post-it note has constantly reminded her to be prepared for whatever life throws at you.

I was too young to understand how she stretched our grocery budget. The fajita dinner I loved was filled with onions and peppers which she stuffed in her tortilla, leaving the meat for me. I grew up thinking she loved onions and peppers, not realizing she was choosing the cheaper alternative.

I was too young to understand the pride that prevented her from accepting the free lunch program at my school even though I qualified due to her low income. She didn’t want the other kids and teachers to treat me differently or pity me. Instead, she clipped grocery coupons and bought only sale items.

I was too young to understand a movie in the park was so exciting to her not only because we were together, but also because it was free.

But now that I’m older, I understand better the struggles she’s gone through, even though she continues to try to hide it. She still brings peanut-butter sandwiches to my Track meets instead of hitting the concession stand with the other parents, insisting she’d rather have a PB&J. She still clips grocery coupons and buys only at 50% off or more, teaching me to save money as a life skill.

But she can’t hide the stress over the cost of college. I worked hard in school and got good grades. My ACT score earned me a spot on my school’s Wall of Excellence. My scores got me accepted to a number of colleges. I’ve worked every summer since I was 14, using my money to help with household needs. But neither of us have earned and saved enough to cover the costs of college.

I know I will be a success in life. I will work hard and achieve my dreams. I will make my mom (and dad) proud. I will keep my life insurance updated to meet my family’s needs.

And I will go to college somehow.

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

2013 Top Recipients