Toshia Keaton was a very proud mother on Monday, during the Rotary Club of Aiken’s (South Carolina, US — District 7750) meeting at Newberry Hall.
Her son, Landon Thornton, was one of the 14 high school or homeschooled seniors who each received a $5,000 college scholarship from the organisation.
Thornton, who attends Aiken High, suffers from a rare genetic disease called tuberous sclerosis.
“It causes benign tumors to grow in all his major organs,” Keaton said.
“He missed a whole semester of his junior year because he had brain surgery, but he still has two tumors in his brain. He also has two tumors in his heart and multiple tumors in his kidneys.”
“He has to take chemotherapy, and he will be on it for the rest of his life to keep the tumors from growing.”
In addition, Thornton has Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder that can make social interactions challenging for him.
Academically, however, Thornton has thrived.
“Asperger’s makes him focus on one thing, and school is it,” Keaton said. “He loves to learn. School is his passion. It’s amazing how he has been able to keep up with everything.”
Keaton added that her son also is among the top students in his class.
Thornton plans to attend USC Aiken, where he will major in education. He wants to be a math teacher.
During a short speech, Thornton told the Rotarians that the scholarship money would be especially helpful because of the high cost of his medical bills.
The total value of the scholarships awarded by the Rotary Club for 2017 was $70,000, which was a record for the group.
“Every quarter, Rotarians generously give to our scholarship fund,” said Betty Ryberg, chairman of the Rotary Club’s Scholarship Committee.
In January, the Rotary Club announced that Gary and Virginia Albrecht would be donating $50,000 annually for 25 years to its Scholarship Fund through a charitable trust.
Because of that big financial boost, the Rotary Club was able to increase the number and value of the scholarships offered in 2017.
Last year, the organisation awarded seven scholarships, which were worth $2,500 apiece and had a total value of $17,500.
For the 2017 grants, the Rotary Club received more than 80 applications. As the Scholarship Committee’s members reviewed them, what impressed them most were “the adversities that some of these students had to overcome and how they didn’t seemed to be overwhelmed by those roadblocks,” Ryberg said. “They were so hopeful.”
Christian Salas of Aiken High will be the first in her family to attend an institution of higher learning. She is headed to Aiken Technical College, and later she hopes to transfer to a four-year school to finish preparing for a career in diagnostic medical sonography.
“Going to college is a top priority for me because I want to better myself,” Salas said.
“My seventh grade science teacher (Shana Pearsons), who is Betty Ryberg’s daughter, told me about the Rotary scholarships and I applied, but I didn’t think I would get one.”
Salas was working at Sub Station II when she received the phone call with the good news.
“I started crying because I was so happy,” said Salas, who brought her 22-year-old brother, Angel Salas, with her to the Rotary Club’s meeting.
Kimberely Gomillion, another Aiken High student, talked about how learning she had won a Rotary scholarship brightened her outlook during a time of trouble.
“Our apartment burned down, and it broke me and my mama into pieces; I was very sad,” Gomillion said. “But receiving this scholarship gave me hope. I have so much gratitude.”
Gomillion will attend USC Aiken and concentrate on graphic design.
Aiken High’s Kevin Blystone thanked guidance counselor Sally Tice for pushing him to improve academically and also to apply for a Rotary scholarship.
“She is basically like another parent,” said Blystone, who will study welding at Aiken Tech. “I had personal issues, but she helped me be strong and pull through.”
The other winners of 2017 Rotary scholarships included Elijah Thompson and Anthony Williamson of South Aiken High, Rebekah Holsenback of South Aiken Baptist Christian School and Jalen Dugar, Q’May Qourters, Q’Ladrin Qourters, Arrie Sanchez and Maggie West of Aiken High.
The homeschooled students who received 2017 Rotary scholarships were Julia Platte and Hannah Poole.
“We want all of these students to be able to do what they want to do as long as it helps the community and helps the country,” Gary Albrecht said.
“We also want them to pay it forward and help somebody else when they’re our age.”
The SPCA Albrecht Centre for Animal Welfare is named in honour of the Albrechts.