In one of Southern Utah University’s most meaningful events, students and donors were brought together this week in a celebration of generosity and education at the annual Scholarship Appreciation Luncheon.
Now in its fifteenth year, the event gives scholarship recipients the opportunity to meet and thank the donors who have paid for their education.
In turn, the University’s benefactors have a chance to see the difference that their support makes in the lives of students, their families and even their homelands.
Making a difference is precisely what Meskerem Wollebo intends to do, once her education is complete and she returns home to Ethiopia where her brave example has already begun to change the lives of others.
Wollebo was one of four scholarship recipients who spoke at the luncheon.
Her moving story of leaving everything behind at the age of 14 to pursue an education in America epitomizes what scholarships and their life-changing impact are all about.
Were it not for the support of SUU’s generous donors, Wollebo would have returned home long ago.
“Growing up in a small town in Ethiopia, I knew that without an education there would be no hope for me,” Wollebo said.
Wollebo’s journey began with the help of a non-profit foundation committed to providing education for young Ethiopian girls who customarily do not attend school. Instead, they are groomed for marriage, reserving educational opportunities for boys.
After five years of study in her homeland, Wollebo was accepted to Wasatch Boarding School in Mount Pleasant, Utah and made the courageous journey to America, alone.
While attending Wasatch, Wollebo learned to speak English -her sixth language- and set her sights on college. She would later be accepted to six colleges but a visit to SUU made her choice clear: Wollebo would be a Thunderbird.
Now in her third year at SUU, MK –a nickname given to Wollebo by her American friends- recently completed her bachelor’s degree in Sociology and this spring, began her graduate studies in SUU’s Master of Public Administration program.
“I just wasn’t ready to leave SUU,” MK said. “I love it here.”
But times were not always easy for MK and despite working two jobs and taking as many credits as possible to finish more quickly, she eventually was unable to afford her tuition and faced the possibility of dropping out.
With just 22 credits left to complete her degree, MK was determined to find a way to stay at SUU. With the help of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, she received a scholarship that would see her through to graduation.
“MK’s education means that she has beaten a life of poverty,” said Jim McDonald, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “She’s incredibly driven and smart but what’s most impressive about her is that she is determined to give back.”
And give back she most certainly will.
“I want to challenge the traditional education system in Ethiopia,” MK says. “Education is not just for boys, it’s just as important for girls. I want to change that mentality for future generations.”
That effort, in which she believes so passionately, has already begun. As a result of her valiant example, MK’s three younger sisters are now attending school in Ethiopia, the eldest one in college.
“If you educate a woman, you educate a nation,” MK says, noting how the African proverb has continued to push her forward, knowing the impact that her education has had —and will continue to have—on her family, her friends and her culture.
“The girls look up to me. I want them to know that if I can do it, they can do it too.”
For her education and the chance to realize the American Dream, MK credits SUU and its generous donors who made her journey possible.
“You have made a huge difference in my life,” she said to the audience of University supporters. “What you have given me is priceless. I cannot repay it but I promise to give back.”
For the 2013-14 academic year, nearly 4,000 students were benefitted by institutional scholarships. Of those scholarships, more than 1,500 were funded by private donors.