EVERETT — Around the same time Morgan Gidney found out she’d have to redo her senior year of high school, she learned her mom had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
“It was just too much for me,” said Gidney, who had been struggling with depression already. “I felt broken.”
Going back to school felt “pointless.” Gidney decided to drop out.
Then she found out she was pregnant. Pregnancy changed everything for Gidney.
“I decided at that point that it wasn’t just my life anymore that I was messing with, that it was also my daughter, and I wanted to give her the best life that I could,” she said. “I didn’t want her to grow up the way I did.”
Now, she’ll have the help of a $5,000 Rotary scholarship to pursue higher education.
’I struggled for a really long time’
On Monday evening, Gidney joined 63 other students and their families in the Everett Civic Auditorium for the Rotary scholarship awards ceremony. The club gave out $341,975 in scholarships this year, $60,000 more than in 2022. It’s the most the club has handed out in a single year.
A total of 64 students were awarded 65 scholarships.
“I am just so continually impressed by these dedicated and hardworking and involved students,” said Anna Marie Laurence, who serves on the club’s scholarship committee. Supporting these students, she said, is “a win-win all the way around, because they are our future.”
The club interviewed dozens of students recommended by school counselors. The process takes about a year, Laurence said. Students received amounts from $500 to $28,000.
Getting this far meant overcoming the odds for Gidney. She said she grew up around abuse and addiction, which led her to struggle in school. In third grade, she was held back due to too many absences.
At age 12, Gidney was taken away from her mom and placed with her dad. She started experimenting with alcohol and drugs that year. Suffering from depression and anxiety, she tried to take her own life.
“I struggled for a really long time,” Gidney said. She is now six years sober and living in transitional housing.
Most of Gidney’s time in high school was spent at Teen Challenge Boise Girls Academy, a boarding school in Idaho. She had to redo 1½ years at Sequoia High School because a teacher at Teen Challenge failed to file some of her work, resulting in lost credits, she said.
A first-generation college student, Gidney “never thought in my mind that I would get accepted to a college, let alone find enough money to go into a degree.”
This week, her job as a Papa John’s delivery driver was derailed by a car crash. She was injured and her car was damaged. Gidney has set up an online fundraiser to help with the costs.
‘A sense of the world’
Naazneen Shafeer Vemmerath-Kulangara, too, had an interrupted high school experience. The summer after her eighth grade graduation in 2019, her dad’s work visa got denied. That meant the whole family of six had to travel back to India, the country they left when Vemmerath-Kulangara was 2.
All of the family’s belongings had to be either sold or put into storage. The rest they packed in their luggage.
At first, the trip felt like a vacation. But when the school year began, reality hit that Vemmerath-Kulangara’s classmates were starting without her.
Months before the pandemic, she did schoolwork from Cascade High School remotely. Because of a 12½-hour time difference, she had to communicate with teachers about 1 or 2 a.m. her time.
Around December, her dad’s visa was renewed. The family returned to Washington shortly before the first reported COVID case in Snohomish County.
Going right back to remote school caused some whiplash, but in the end Vemmerath-Kulangara felt the lockdown era was good for her.
“That was a time where I really got to know myself as a person,” she said, “because there were so many hectic things happening in my life, I really didn’t check in with myself during those times.”
Vemmerath-Kulangara, 18, takes classes at Everett Community College through the Running Start program. After graduation in June, she plans to transfer to the University of Southern California to study physics.
Physics “just gives you a sense of the world,” she said. Along with physics, Vemmerath-Kulangara’s Islamic faith is also important to her.
A $28,000 Rotary scholarship will help her realize her ambitions.
‘You just take it’
Aung Aung spent most of his early childhood in a Thai refugee camp. At age 6, he started working, picking corn on farms among other jobs.
Medical care at the camp was poor and Aung had injuries that went untreated. At one point, a dirty nail went through his leg.
“No bandages, no nothing,” Aung said. “You just take it and hopefully you heal.”
Luckily, the wound did not get infected. But when his dad fell ill, likely from drinking contaminated water, he did not recover.
A Thai hospital discharged his dad “even though he was still very, very, very sick,” Aung said, which he believes they did because his family didn’t have much money. Instead of getting the help he needed, Aung’s dad died.
The following year, when Aung was 8, he came to Everett with his mom and three siblings.
He spoke no English and had to adjust to a new school system. At first, he feared teachers would hit him as they did back in the refugee camp. Instead, he found them kind and understanding of his language challenges.
Aung, 18, plans to attend the University of Washington after graduating from Everett High School this year. He intends to study nursing and eventually return to Thailand to help families in need.
“My dad could have lived a longer life” if he’d had proper health care, Aung said. “Maybe in the future I can help another family not have the same problem.”
Aung received a $1,000 scholarship from the Rotary Club.
‘I know what it’s like to not be helped’
Gidney went back to school at nine months pregnant. It wasn’t easy. Sequoia offered her accommodations because of her pregnancy, but accepting help was difficult. The school offered her an elevator key, but at first, she opted to take the stairs instead.
“I didn’t feel like I was worth it,” Gidney said. “Before I went to Sequoia I felt a lot of shame for getting pregnant at such a young age and being a single mom and having to go back to school. But they were really there for me … They showed me what it’s like to be loved and shown worth.”
Gidney, like Aung, also wants to study nursing because of her personal experience. Giving birth was part of her inspiration, because she saw the impact of nurses’ care.
“I just want to be a light to people and be able to help people, because I know what it’s like to not be helped,” Gidney said.
Now 20, Gidney graduated from Sequoia High School in April. She has plans to attend Everett Community College in the fall.
She is full of hope, both for herself and her daughter, Emery.
“I want to be able to show her my life … and push her to be the best that she can,” she said. “I’m not going to force her to do anything, because that’s not my place. But I just want to show her that things are possible in life.”
Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; email@example.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.
Talk to us
- You can tell us about news and ask us about our journalism by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 425-339-3428.
- If you have an opinion you wish to share for publication, send a letter to the editor to email@example.com or by regular mail to The Daily Herald, Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206.
- More contact information is here.