Though her career in the classroom was all too short, Hannah Marie Gilliland, BSEd ’03, was a teacher in every sense of the word.
“As a father, we’re supposed to teach our kids,” Kip Gilliland, Hannah’s father, remembers. “But the roles really were reversed. She taught me, and everybody who knew her, so much about life. To so many people, she was an inspiration.”
More than 12 years have passed since Hannah, then a Baylor junior, received news that would turn anyone’s world upside down. The headaches she was experiencing were symptoms of a much larger problem — a brain tumor. Abruptly, her days were filled with surgery, radiation and recovery.
“But she went back to Baylor,” Kip said. Even after a brain resection, Hannah came back to class for the second semester. And when brain cancer returned her senior year, she weathered it a second time and again returned to the school whose Christian influence and mission she so loved.
“She never complained, never said, ‘I can’t do this,’ no matter how hard it was,” Kip marveled. “How many people would, after two brain surgeries, go back to school and care enough to finish a degree?”
The brain surgeries robbed Hannah’s motor skills and radiation claimed her hair, but neither was powerful enough to overcome her spirit. In the spring of 2003, she walked across the stage to receive her diploma and was hired as a teaching assistant at St. Luke’s Episcopal School in San Antonio.
“That was her dream, to be a teacher,” Kip says. “But the tumor came back with a vengeance and her time was very short. She passed away in November. It wasn’t long, but she actually got to experience classroom teaching. She didn’t realize what an amazing teacher she really was.”
Inspired to honor his daughter’s memory, Kip started a scholarship to help students attend the School of Education. Over the last decade, 36 students have been able to attend Baylor thanks to the “Hannah Marie Gilliland Memorial Endowed Scholarship,” extending Hannah’s legacy through the lives they will touch.
Kip writes countless thank you notes to donors, and he shares stories about Hannah’s life and the students who follow in her footsteps with friends and family who express an interest in supporting the fund. His dedication and personal touch have led to additional gifts to the endowment.
“The letters, the gratitude we receive from these students is overwhelming,” Kip said. “In education, you’re talking about kids who are motivated for a whole different reason. They don’t have the promise of getting out and making a fortune. They have the promise of getting out and making a difference. Had Hannah lived, she would have been helping people. She didn’t live, but she’s still helping people today.”
— by Derek Smith