As I get older and begin to see how experiences stack together, I’ve come to realize that so much of what matters the most can be traced back to a moment. One of the most important moments in my life was the start of my junior year at IU, when I was accepted into the first class of Cox Scholars.
Here’s what I knew about the program when I applied: It was being funded by a man who had worked his way through IU many years ago, and it was meant to help students with solid GPAs who were also trying to work their way through college. In other words, it was started by someone who understood firsthand how worrying about money can make you worry about everything else, and he wanted to lift that burden for generations of Hoosiers. His name was Jesse Cox. His empathy and generosity changed the course of my life.
The support I received from the Cox Scholars program, both from my fellow scholars and from the scholarship staff, built my confidence in ways that are difficult to explain. The quickest way to say it, though, is that I felt believed in. IU is full of literally thousands of brilliant, talented people. Being a Cox Scholar made me feel like a successful and surefooted member of that student body. It allowed me to stop worrying about money and start focusing on my college experience, which meant more time exploring the things I loved: writing and reading short fiction, volunteering in the after-school program at The Rise, being pushed to think critically about larger-than-life concepts by the English department—which no doubt contributed to my being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and earning top honors for my senior thesis—and eating at basically every restaurant on Fourth Street.
The Cox Scholarship also brought me to the attention of a Teach for America (TFA) recruiter, who contacted me specifically because of my standing in the program. I ended up joining TFA after graduating, and taught third grade in the Mississippi Delta for two years. I did this in large part because I had come to believe, as did Jesse Cox, that education can—and should—equalize and uplift. In the Delta I met the man who is now my husband, wrote the stories that would get me accepted into IU’s MFA in creative writing program (many of them inspired by my students), and began laying the groundwork for my current career in higher education.
I’m now a writer for a marketing consultancy that works almost exclusively with colleges and universities. The best part of my job is spending time on campuses all across the country, listening to students talk about their undergraduate experiences.
Last week I was speaking with a young man about his full tuition scholarship. When I asked what it meant to him, his voice caught and tears rushed into his eyes as he tried to articulate his gratitude. I knew exactly how he felt.