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Bill & Melinda

Updated: Jul 10

In the Spring of 2001, the clouds parted and my life changed forever. While sitting in History class, I was unexpectedly called down to the office. Later that afternoon, I was to give a speech in front of the school and assumed the call had something to do with assembly logistics.

The last thing that I expected to hear, I heard that day.

As I walked into the office, there was a buzz in the air. A few teachers were present, quietly bursting with joy. He informed me that our school had received an amazing opportunity that would be announced to the student body later that day. He then asked "where do plan on attending college?" He looked ecstatic, yet waited patiently for my answer.

"Community College", I replied. By this point, I was dying to know what all the excitement was about.

"If your tuition was covered, where would you go?", he asked.

"WSU", I replied without hesitation.

Before explaining the context, he looked in my eyes and graciously said, "Melissa, starting at WSU this upcoming Fall is now possible".

The opportunity came from The Bill and Melinda Foundation that previous Summer. The foundation was providing full-ride scholarships for schools of lower socio-economic status. Principals from across the state entered to receive this amazing scholarship package. After copious amounts of work, our principal, Mr. Penberthy received the news that our school was a recipient of The Bill and Melinda Gates Acheivers Scholarship!

“Am I the first student to know?”, I asked him.

He answered, “yes”.

I was floored - it all seemed too good to be true.

This meant that for a span of 12 years, approximately 30 seniors from every graduating class would receive full-ride scholarships. We announced the news at the assembly, along with the logistics of how to receive the scholarship. Because the news came so late in the year, the current graduating class was going to have to work extremely hard to get everything done in time to qualify.

To apply for the scholarship, students were required to write a series of 10 essays. The school's English department was provided substitutes and stationed in the library to help with editing. At this time, I had zero confidence as a writer. The thought of so many essays was daunting and honestly, seemed imposable.

Spring Break was coming up and my English teacher, Mr. Lawler, informed us that he would be in the computer lab over break to help finish up editing essays. The deadline was the Monday following break and everyone was feeling the pressure. My essays were done, but I knew they could be better. They needed to be sifted through again. Because of this, I begrudgingly forfeited my long awaited camping trip with friends to work on writing.

At school.

During Spring Break.


That first day in the computer lab, Lawler instructed all of us to print out our essays. He then edited in red felt tipped pen as he read every essay. In those moments of waiting, I wished most that I was with my friends. Lawler would hand us our edited paper, then we'd head back to our computers to rework what had been marked. That was the process until we the essays were scholarship worthy.

Taking advantage of Lawler's offer was one of the wisest decisions I ever made. Going into Spring Break, my writing felt weak. By the end of those 5 days, I had finished 10 essays that I believed had a good chance of earning a scholarship. Before this, I would hide my writing out of fear. I cringed at the thought of my peers reading anything I wrote.

It was elating to finally feel proud of my thoughts on paper.


A teacher sacrificed his vacation to help students reach their goals - that's love. I am forever grateful for Lawler's selflessness and encouragement throughout those hectic weeks. He convinced me that I was capable. He knew the 10, or so, of us in there were tired of writing. "We'll get there", he'd say with grin. He kept us going until the end. The Monday following Spring Break arrived and all essays were turned in. The results took about a month, and to this date, it was the longest month of my life.

The large envelope marked Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation arrived. Inside was a certificate stating that I, Melissa Ann Jones, was the recipient of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Achievers Scholarship. A full-ride to WSU, where I had recently been accepted.

Now, Pullman bound, I was felt liberated. There was a fire in me, I wanted to try everything. Meet everyone! Learn everything! It was a magical time.

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