Facing The Future With ConfidenceFeb. 12, 2004
Editor's note: Baylor's annual Endowed Scholarship Society Appreciation Dinner is April 2. O'Dell is one of more than 3,000 undergraduate students who has received endowed scholarships during the 2003-04 academic year, totaling $10.5 million. An additional 235 postgraduate students are receiving $1.2 million.
When we envision our futures, few of us see a clear map and fewer still can imagine the obstacles we'll encounter. As long as I can remember, I dreamed of a Baylor education, but the roadblocks my family encountered to making that a reality have been immense.
When I was about 6, I remember cheering for Baylor athletics, and it seemed only natural that I should be a Bear because it was one of the pet names my family gave me. As I grew older, the University continued to hold my attention because of its reputation for educational excellence and its preservation of the Christian values I treasure. I believed a Baylor degree offered a competitive edge to its graduates, and desiring that, I was inspired to put forth my best efforts in high school in order to qualify for admittance.
While I could do my part academically, my family could not alter the harsh realities of the extremely rare medical condition my sister, Breezy, was born with. Keratitis, Ichthyosis and Deafness Syndrome leaves one predisposed to bacterial, viral and fungal infections that affect the ectoderm, the outer layer of skin. Normal childhood illnesses and vaccinations intensify the infections. Breezy requires frequent medical attention and almost constant care from my mother. Medical expenses fluctuate wildly, so any money my parents had saved for my education was spent long ago.
The early prognosis for Breezy was that she would not make it to her first birthday. Today, she is an eighth-grader and recently participated in a dance recital. She missed almost half of the school days last semester due to illness, but still made the A-B Honor Roll. She contends with deafness, blindness and painful sores that often erupt on her skin, yet her persistence and resilience serve as an inspiration to me. She claims I am her hero, but she humbles me with her intelligence and perseverance.
I would never stand in the way of anything that might help her. When Baylor accepted my application and offered me the Provost Scholarship, I felt like my dream had come true. But as generous as the scholarship is, it covered only a part of my expenses. That first year of college, I held a work-study position, but still my parents struggled to keep me here. During my sophomore year, the financial burden grew too much when we were hit with another sudden escalation of medical expenses. I went to my financial counselor and adviser at Baylor, Robert Allen, and after filling out the necessary paperwork, he notified me that I had qualified for the Robert Alan and Dorothy Rheams Smith Scholarship. The annual $8,000 award enabled me to stay at Baylor.
My mother taught me to only borrow as a last resort and if you must, return it in better condition than you received it. I intend to do precisely that. I plan to reward the Smiths' faith in me by making a positive impact on society. At Baylor, I give several hours a week through Alpha Phi Omega of volunteer service on campus and in the community. After I graduate in 2005, I plan to attend law school and specialize in health care law.
Once again, I see the map of my future with renewed confidence. I am grateful for so many people who have invested in me, but also because their help provided indirect compassion and consideration for Breezy. She is truly an amazing person and worth every effort to improve the quality of her life and give her a future.
O'Dell is a junior from Amarillo, Texas, majoring in philosophy with a minor in political science.