By Angelina Burkholder | Echo
During high school, we dreamed about school colors, majors and traditions long before we ever stepped foot onto a college campus. When the acceptance letter finally arrived, we celebrated and began planning for college. While our parents calculated repayment plans and covered car windows in TU stickers, some high school students stared at the shiny purple and gold acceptance packet, biting fingernails at the cost of attending Taylor.
But then an unforgettable announcement changed their lives as Lilly Endowment swept in with fouryears of free tuition for Indiana students. For first-generation college students like senior Jess Chupp, it can be the difference between high-quality education and community college.
"I definitely would not be at Taylor if I didn't have the Lilly," Chupp said. "It's given me a boldness to study what I want to study and not be thinking in terms of what's going to make me the most money. It's between me and God, because I know he's going to take care of me."
The Community Scholarship Program functions as just one of the efforts of private philanthropic foundation Lilly Endowment, Inc. At Taylor alone, there are 25 students enrolled with the Lilly scholarship, bringing with them over 700,000 tuition dollars. With 92 participating counties, the Lilly Endowment donates millions of dollars every year. This money provides students with the chance to attend any in-state school with free tuition.
Freshman Nolan Sponseller hoped to save his family from hefty college bills. After his county chose him as the winner, he worked nine hours a day, seven days a week on his family's farm to save money for his laptop, school supplies, gas and miscellaneous fees.
"I am so blessed," Sponseller said. "I didn't think I deserved it, but I got it. I don't know why God gave it to me, but he gave it to me for a reason so I'm trying to glorify Him in the opportunity that I got."
But winning the Lilly doesn't come without struggles. Behind every recipient stands dozens of empty-handed students. With a high-stakes, competition, animosity and pressure develop easily.
"Even though I was really proud and happy for myself, my family and my high school, I didn't want to show it off, because I know kids are struggling to pay for college," Sponseller said. "If I look through their eyes, I can tell they're maybe thinking 'why does he deserve it and why don't I?'"
Even at Taylor, fellow students drop hints of envy disguised as jokes, barring Lilly scholars from sharing their stories of need and blessing.
"I can't say anything about how blessed I am, because then I will have that stigma," Chupp said. "People see it as a free ride."
Most Lilly winners hide their status in order to have a normal collegiate career.
"I don't want to be known as the guy who is getting his college paid for," Sponseller said. "I don't want to be that kid. I just want to be a normal college student."
At the end of the day, Lilly scholars complete homework, struggle with assignments and fear the future just as much as any other student. Tuition paid in full doesn't guarantee smarter students; being a Lily scholar takes just as much perseverance, faith and all-nighters.