The big payoff: family member get selected for lucrative Gates scholarship
June 13, 2013
FORT LEE, Va. (June, 13, 2013) -- She has it all mapped out:
Join the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Virginia Tech and study engineering; fulfill her five-year obligation to the Air Force; attend either Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Cambridge to study energy technology and earn her master's and doctorate; and work for the Air Force as a research scientist.
"From then on, it's a bit unclear," she concluded.
That rough,15-year plan belongs to 18-year old Midlothian High School graduate Naomi Butler-Abrisirorr, who rattled it off with a certain level of conviction and assurance. Such confidence doesn't surprise her father, Staff Sgt. Evan Butler.
"There's nothing that she can't do once she puts her mind to it," said the Charlie Company, 832nd Ordnance Battalion platoon sergeant. "She's got the organizational and adaptability skills and the time management thing down to a tee."
Those attributes were likely factors in Butler-Abrisirorr's selection as a 2013 Gates Millennium Scholar. She was one of 1,000 seniors named nationwide and one of only 12 from the state of Virginia.
The GMS Program, funded by computer magnate Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, serves to provide minorities lacking adequate financial resources with "the opportunity to reach their full potential," according to its website. The scholarship can essentially fund an education up to a doctorate degree, which alone costs an average of $250,000-$300,000 at a public school. Butler-Abrisirorr said the GMS has been a long-standing goal.
"I've wanted this award for about four years," she said, "so when I actually got it, it was honestly a dream come true."
How did she get selected?
Butler-Abrisirorr attributes her scholarship award to faith, family, sheer drive and an 8th-grade epiphany that allowed her to see the world from her parents' perspective.
"I don't know if it was because of puberty or anything," she recalled. "I just realized everything that they did for me -- money was tight -- and that if I wasn't a good student, I wouldn't be able to go to college. I realized that most people in high school don't become aware of that until their junior or senior year. I knew that I would have an advantage."
Armed with her newfound wisdom, Butler-Abrisirorr put a plan into action that would transform her from being a "kind of lazy" student to a motivated, opportunistic one. That meant taking algebra in middle school rather than high school, joining the International Baccalaureate program, taking on as many leadership positions as she could in a variety of programs and participating in extracurricular activities.
One of those activities, the Homework Helpers group she supported as a junior, was among Butler-Abrisirorr's most significant community service efforts.
"What we basically did was collect a certain amount of students who would go every Wednesday to tutor kids from an elementary school near a trailer park," she recalled. "We helped them with anything they needed -- math, reading and writing."
The teen said she has also volunteered to spend time with the elderly, was a member of a prior school's ROTC program and has held positions as secretary and fund-raiser chairman for her robotics team at Midlothian.
At the root of all her efforts was the fact that she was a military family member who has attended six schools in three different parts of the country, endured separations from her father and sacrificed many long-term relationships. All of it has helped Butler-Abrisirorr develop coping skills and a broader view of the world around her.
"It made me more open-minded," she said, "becoming familiar with different countries and travelling to different states."
On the other hand, it wasn't always hunky-dory. Butler-Abrisirorr said she has had her share of tribulation.
"There was a constant frustration that I had," she said, "because I moved so much. I never got to keep friends ... I was always the new person everywhere I went."
Despite the negative aspects of her military upbringing, Butler-Abrisirorr pushed on to fulfill goals. Those goals were manifested in the hopes and aspirations she had for the GMS. It was such that she was brimming with anticipation during the process of selection, following a Facebook page daily to keep updated on selection news and following finalists for the award.
"There was about 2,000 of them, and only half would actually make it through," she said. "I realized that I became really anxious looking at all the posts every single day, keeping up with everything they were saying, looking at their stats and how great they were."
The stats, which ranged from acceptance rates of applicants to Ivy League schools, their range of community service and the like, were intimidating to Butler-Abrisirorr and she suffered something of a burnout.
"I decided to just quit the Facebook group and not look at it until the results finally came out," she said.
Butler-Abrisirorr was resigned to getting her news via the U.S. mail system. She knew a small envelope from the GMS program would indicate non-acceptance while a larger one meant you were accepted as a scholar.
A few days after she got word the selections were made, a mere trip to the mailbox turned into a celebration.
"When I saw this huge envelope, I was 'Ah!' she recalled. "I just pulled it out and ripped it open and it said, 'Welcome to the GMS family.'
"'Yes!' she exclaimed. "I just dropped to my knees right there, then ran back inside and cried with my mom."
Her mother, a native of Peru, wept at the sight of seeing her daughter so happy, but she was cautious.
"I told her to sit down," said Lucila Butler. "We need to read and really see if you are the winner."
After the confirmation, Lucila called her mother, a pastor in her home country. They all prayed and 'thanked God.'"
Staff Sgt. Butler received the good news at his office and shut his office door "because I don't allow my Soldiers to see me get emotional," he recalled.
"I'll admit I was kind of teary-eyed. Thank God. Everything she worked for the past four years -- all the time she's given up -- it finally paid off for her."