The following was written by our 2017 scholarship recipient, Stacie Fugate.
There are countless stories of people who have made the world a better place. Microbiologist Maurice Hilleman developed over thirty-six vaccines and saved more lives than any other medical scientist in the twentieth century. J.K. Rowling inspired a new generation of readers. Lilly Ledbetter fought for equal pay. Rick Rescorla organized a 9/11 evacuation despite being ordered otherwise. Rosa Parks simply said “no.” The list of unsung heroes goes on and on. Their acts of bravery, courage, and determination may have just been “doing the right thing” at the time, but the aftereffects changed history as we know it.
One could say that the same acts are being carried out by an organization called Appalachian Connection. This nonprofit gives high school seniors in Perry County, Kentucky not only a major scholarship opportunity, but also another way to defy stereotypes of our region.
Being from Southeastern Kentucky is no small feat. People from our region are often ridiculed for things that aren’t completely accurate. We are plagued by negative stigmas brought on by national news sources. In fact, if I were to ask an outsider about our area, a black and white photo of Lyndon B. Johnson promoting the War on Poverty while squatting on a front porch in Inez, Kentucky would probably come to mind. Those not from here may reference ‘A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains’ when trying to picture what we’re actually like. The truth is, yes, Appalachia has its problems like anywhere else, but there is so much more to us than what is portrayed, which is why I’m thankful that I got to meet the 100 Days in Appalachia crew at the New Story 2017 conference. They inspired me with their grit and motivation to change the idea that many people have of Appalachia.
After meeting with the people of 100 days and gushing to my peers about the awesome work they’re doing, we felt as though it was our job to also challenge stereotypes that doubted our intelligence, mocked our culture, and were downright silly. (News flash: we DO wear shoes!) We broke school records for highest test scores, a few of us were nationally competitive in speech and debate, and community involvement was at an all-time high with my graduating class. Finally, we decided to put these accomplishments to good use and apply for the next step in our lives: college.
The Hazard High School Class of 2017 collectively earned over one million dollars in scholarships. Most of us were accepted to the school of our dreams. Now, we’re about to move into our dorms and make waves in the rest of the country’s idea of our region. I and so many others are able to do this simply because individuals in our community believed in us. People that we looked up to. Our heroes.
The group of people at Appalachian Connection are some of my own personal heroes. They want to enrich our community all the while believing that our students will surely garner a positive return.
I am beyond thankful for the opportunity to attend my dream school, the University of Kentucky, completely debt free. For me, and many others to come, the Appalachian Connection Scholarship is a blessing not only monetarily speaking, but also because I have such a solid support system. I never go without reassurance that I can accomplish anything that I set my mind to, even at a huge school such as UK.
Acts of bravery, kindness, and even determination, no matter how big or small, just might make one person someone else’s hero. Kyle Carpenter is the youngest living soldier to ever receive the Medal of Honor. Stephen Hawking defied every boundary possible in his lifetime. Candy Lightner successfully organized and promoted the danger of driving under the influence. The people of Appalachian Connection are changing lives of Eastern Kentucky students, one scholarship and word of encouragement at a time. What a bunch of heroes. I am forever grateful that I get to work with them.