A Scholarship Story

by C.J. Kirkland

My husband and I both spent much of our childhood living below the poverty line. We weren’t aware of this at the time as our caretakers, particularly our grandmothers, always made sure our needs were met. My grandmother worked two jobs so that I could attend one of the best private schools in The Bahamas- Kingsway Academy. During the first semester of my senior year (and ranked in the top ten percent of my class), I gathered my college applications and took them to my guidance counselor for approval. She looked at my neat stack, containing addressees such as Brown, Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Spelman. Then she looked me directly in the eyes and said I should consider applying to “lower-ranked” schools that cost less because I could not afford the tuition at any of the schools in my stack. She was wrong and she was right. She was wrong in telling me I should not apply to the very best. She was right in that I could not afford the price tag of that very best. I applied nonetheless. In the spring of my senior year I was awarded a full academic scholarship to Spelman College. My scholarship story was born.

Somewhere in Memphis is a young child full of endless potential, living below the poverty line (in fact, since Memphis is the poorest metro area in the nation I would guess there are many children in this position). Alongside this child is a caretaker who wants the very best for her and one day decides to visit the Maria Montessori School, hoping that poverty won’t get in the way of potential. The opportunity for a scholarship story is born.

A family whose child is attending MMS may be okay today, but that could change tomorrow. Tomorrow a job is lost; an entire savings account is wiped out by a Ponzi scheme. Tomorrow a husband and father weeps when he learns of his wife’s Stage IV cancer diagnosis and then learns that their health insurance won’t cover the cost of treatments. The tuition check was always on time but tomorrow, tomorrow with its sudden unemployment, vanished savings and chemotherapy, there will be no check to give. The opportunity for a scholarship story is born.

Every day there are stories in the making at MMS. It is a magical place where children living below the poverty line are learning alongside children of the Memphis Elite. It is an embracing place in which families being beaten up by life’s unfair rules find solace in the eyes of their child whose enlightenment has gone uninterrupted. The Silent Auction held this past Saturday ensures that a place such as this continues to exist in a world such as ours.

Life’s imbalance dictates that not every child in need can be the recipient of an MMS Scholarship. Not even my alma mater, with an endowment fund of over $291 million, can offer help to everyone who asks, needs, or deserves. But your generosity this past Saturday means that at least for some, the story will begin- or continue.

I am so very grateful to Maria and the MMS family for being authors of stories that may otherwise have never been created. On behalf of those to whom you give, thank you. Thank you from a scholarship recipient who was pulled up from beneath the poverty line by someone who gave potential a chance.
C.J. Kirkland is a freelance writer currently based in Memphis.
Call (901) 267-5287 or email cj@cjkirkland.com.