Mckenzie began his senior year confident that he would be attending college soon after he left high school. His family was far from rich, but his parents believed in the power of education, so they had managed to put aside a moderate college fund for their son’s future.
Mack’s plan was to stretch the money as far as he could by enrolling in a community college, where he could earn a two-year degree and settle on a major before transferring to a larger university.
Everything changed in the spring of that year, only three months before graduation. Mckenzie had a disagreement with his father—the kind that ends with, “If you’re going to live in my house, you’ll obey my rules!” followed by, “Fine, then I won’t live in your house, if that‘s what you want!”
Mack was getting along fine while living in his car or occasionally staying at a friend’s house. Despite his hardships, he made sure to attend school each day and keep up with his class work, so he wouldn’t fall behind in his education. Mack’s biggest concern was how he would manage to pay for college, now that he was supporting himself on only the meager wages of a job in the fast food industry.
Mckenzie had never considered applying for scholarships, and he knew nothing about the process. He visited his school’s career center, but didn‘t find any offers that looked promising. Mack did take one application—for students hoping to become elementary school teachers, because he figured there wouldn’t be much competition. He began working on the required essay, but his heart wasn’t in it. Mckenzie came from a long line of teachers, but he wasn’t convinced that he wanted to carry on the family tradition.
The scholarship essay was not the only one that Mack had prepared that spring. He was enrolled in a creative writing class, where he was expected to complete essay assignments, along with composing poetry and short stories. Mack’s writing was so well appreciated that he was appointed the prose editor position on his high school literary magazine.
Later in the year, the creative writing teacher began turning her students’ focus toward entering competitions. Whenever she learned of a new youth writing contest, the entire class was required to prepare an entry whether or not they intended to submit their work for the judges to review. Mckenzie was squarely in the “not” category, but he was unaware that his teacher had been mailing entries to competitions on his behalf. That spring, while Mack was living out of his tiny Toyota, the letters of congratulation began pouring in. With each winning submission, Mack was expected to attend another annoying awards banquet. He didn’t mind the free food; the problem was being forced to wear a suit and tie! The rear-view mirror of his car was not designed for getting gussied up for a formal event. But no banquet meant no prize (usually just a stupid gift certificate, anyway), so Mckenzie put on the dumb suit—nicely accented by a leather jacket and sneakers—and attended each ceremony.
As the school year was winding to a close, Mack got called into the principal’s office.
“We‘re trying to think of some way to reward you for winning so many writing competitions,” the principal told him. “You’ve made our school look very good.”
Money would be nice, Mckenzie thought, but out loud he said, “Thank you.”
“We’ll be giving you the English Student of the Year award, of course,“ the principal continued, smiling at him warmly.
“Thank you,” Mack replied. Inside he was thinking, Yeah, the plaque will look great nailed to the bumper of my car.
“Also, we’ve decided to give you a complimentary ticket to the Senior Prom.”
“Thank you.” Just what I need— another opportunity to wear a tie.
“And a scholarship spot on the senior field trip.”
Whoopee, a visit to the capital to see democracy in action.
The principal must have sensed how unimpressed Mckenzie was with the list of rewards, so he rummaged around in his desk drawer and withdrew a small, shiny object.
“Here, it’s a lapel pin with the school’s crest on it.”
“Thank you.” Mack took his pin and left.
Several weeks later, he was again summoned to the principal’s office. This time, the news was considerably better.
“I’ve been told that you wish to enroll in a community college,“ the man said. “Is this true, Mckenzie?“
“Sure that‘s the plan.”
“Do you care which one?” the principal asked.
“There’s an opportunity for a full scholarship to the community college across town, if you’re interested. Books included.”
“Really?” Mack asked. “How do I apply?”
“You don’t,” the principal told him. “You’ve already got it. It’s up to our school to select a winner, and since you’ve already written so many excellent essays and stories for us, we‘ve decided to skip the competition and offer it directly to you.”
All because of his essays and the relationship he built with the higher ups at his school, Mckenzie was able to complete his AA degree while he saved money for his continuing education.