Right before starting college as a freshman at Ithaca College in New York, Samantha Watts and her family received the unfortunate news that her father had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Watts understood that because of the attendant financial pressures, she was going to have to get creative about how she was going to pay for her education, so she began searching for scholarships or opportunities that would allow her to still go to college.
Making things worse, after the diagnosis, her father had to start treatments, which left both her mom and dad unable to work, as the medicine regime went round the clock and was impossible to schedule. When the medical bills started coming in, Watts’ parents faced the reality that they would be unable to afford their daughter’s school tuition, which demoralized the entire family. Still, despite the hardships, Watts was left more determined than she was before and became even more intent on going to college.
She received a merit scholarship from Ithaca College, but it was unable to cover all of her expenses, so she began working campus jobs on the side, including managing one of the school’s tech departments and giving campus tours. Though supporting themselves is a struggle that most college students face, the sudden illness in the family added another element to the challenge. Without the funds that were originally expected to go toward college, Watts depended on loans and scholarships for her education.
Then, one day, one scholarship changed everything. When the “Today” show offered to help one deserving college student pay off tuition, Watts became one of nearly two thousand applicants to take a chance at obtaining the generous scholarship. In her application, she told the story of her father’s diagnosis and about everything she does at Ithaca, such as her on-campus jobs and her position of choreographer in her show choir. In addition, she mentioned that she needs to go to grad school to practice her profession, as she is majoring in Speech-Pathology and Audiology with a minor in Education Studies, in hopes of becoming a speech pathologist.
Watts was invited to appear on the show as a finalist, though Hoda Kotb soon surprised her by revealing to her that she was the recipient. Then, after the initial surprise, Will Ferrell, who was promoting his new film “The House,” which is about parents who go extreme lengths to pay for their children’s education, emerged from the crowd and announced that he was the sponsor of the scholarship award, and in his arm was a giant scroll-like object that was unrolled to reveal a check for $100,000. If you watch the clip of her receiving the scholarship, it’s clear that she was absolutely stunned by the turn of events. “It was totally crazy! I still watch the video back and don’t believe it. I didn’t even feel like I was on TV,” she says.
Watts was elated to receive the scholarship, mostly because she immensely grateful to the organization for helping her fund her education, but also because she has a passion for speech pathology, which is the career she plans to pursue after graduation. In addition to learning how to help individuals with speech impediments, Watts is also minoring in Education Studies so that she can work in a school system with young children, preschool or kindergarten age, and improve their speech and language skills. As someone who had to go to speech therapy when I was that age, I can definitely appreciate what she wants to do. Speech and language is an important aspect of childhood development and makes children better communicators, so her desired profession would make a big impact on their lives.
Based on her story and what she wants to accomplish, it is easy to see why Watts deserves the scholarship that she was awarded. After accepting that she would have to put in more effort to pay for her education as a result of her father’s diagnosis, she continued to fight for a way to go to school, showing that she was pursuing her degree because she had a passion for it, not because it was easy or just the next step. Plus, now that her dad has recovered and she has a $100,000 scholarship, things should be looking up for Watts and her family. Hopefully she can put all the time and energy that she was using to search for scholarships and working on campus into doing even better in her courses!