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For immediate release — June 24, 2015
(DALLAS) — Education changes lives. Four Dallas County Community College District students who have survived war, homelessness, poverty, medical issues and feticide know that. They have courage. They have persevered and survived challenges that would have caused others to give up. Now they face the challenge of college, classes and completing a degree so that they can build careers and lives that will take them on to other challenges. With the help of the Erin Tierney Kramp Encouragement Endowed Scholarship from DCCCD, Ojaswee Giri, Lyeisha Hoof, Keaton Johnson and Ange Kobe are ready to take that next step.
Giri survived almost-certain death in Nepal, but she is excited to build her life in the U.S. as an accounting major at North Lake College. Left with a special needs child to raise on her own when her husband abandoned both of them, Hoof faces multiple challenges every day as she pursues her associate degree in nursing at El Centro College. Johnson has survived poverty, homelessness and abuse, and the biology major at Eastfield College will escape that vicious cycle through education. And Kobe knows that war changes lives while a degree can offer hope and a career, starting with mathematics at Brookhaven College.
All four students were recognized as 2015-2016 recipients of the Dallas County Community College District’s Erin Tierney Kramp Endowed Scholarship Award during a special dinner on Tuesday, June 23, at a dining establishment in Dallas.
The scholarship, which is administered by the DCCCD Foundation, will help Giri, Hoof, Johnson and Kobe reach for their dreams with financial support from the scholarship, which covers full tuition and books for up to six semesters.
The courage and perseverance shown by all four students in the face of adversity are traits exhibited by the person for whom the award is named. Erin Tierney Kramp, who fought breast cancer from 1994 to 1998, created a videotaped legacy on “life lessons” for her young daughter that would convey Erin’s views and advice to Peyton as the young girl grew up, following her mother’s death.
Erin touched many lives and inspired countless strangers when she co-authored “Living With the End in Mind” (written with her husband and a family friend) and through appearances on programs like “20/20” and the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” Winfrey featured the Kramp story/segment as one of her “most memorable guests” during a May 2011 farewell show as the program reached its historic end. Erin’s legacy lives on through the Kramp Foundation, the DCCCD scholarship program and the lives of all of its recipients.
“The Erin Tierney Kramp program awards scholarships to students based on their courage and perseverance in the face of adversity,” said Michael Brown, president of the Erin Tierney Kramp Foundation. “We see these qualities in all four students this year — Ojaswee, Lyeisha, Keaton and Ange — and know that they are survivors. Their stories exemplify what our past recipients have demonstrated repeatedly through Erin’s legacy. When individuals face adversity, the struggles they endure will either make them stronger or defeat them. Winning that battle requires both courage and perseverance — traits possessed by all of our recipients for the coming academic year.”
In Nepal, baby girls bring misfortune and shame; many are killed by their family members because they are considered a burden. Ojaswee Giri escaped that fate when her mother fought for her daughter’s life, after she was beaten, endured death threats and eventually was kicked out of the house by her husband; Ojaswee was only five months old. For some time, the little girl found refuge in school, a place she called her “first home” during those early years. “Some people made fun of me, while others sympathized with me because I was abandoned by my own family,” she recalls.
Eventually, Ojaswee and her mother were able to leave the country and immigrate to the United States, where they found a home but still faced more challenges. “Although I had a rough childhood and I am currently struggling to fit in American society,” says Ojaswee, “I believe that one day I will become an independent and educated woman so that I can inspire and help students like me reach their goal in life.”
Although learning a new language and adapting to a new culture have been a tough challenge, Ojaswee decided that she would make changes in her life to overcome the name-calling, bullying and isolation she first experienced as a newcomer to America. “People around me did not change, so I changed myself,” she explains. “I brought confidence and positivity into my life.” Giri joined the academic honor society Phi Theta Kappa at North Lake College, and she ran for vice president of scholarship in the spring semester. She also is involved in the Student Government Association and other organizations, works as a student assistant, started a mentorship program and serves as an orientation leader on campus. Giri plans to become a CPA and also a social entrepreneur.
Ojaswee believes in serving people and eventually plans to return to Nepal where she wants to “start an organization in my home country to encourage girls and women to go to school, to become independent and strong, and to show society that a woman is not a burden.” In the meantime, she says, “Education is important to me because education has given me hope and expectations in life. I have seen poverty, hate, disappointments and failure in life, and that is what makes me strong.”
When “Mammo,” Lyeisha Hoof’s grandmother, underwent triple-bypass heart surgery, her granddaughter remembered the amazing nurses who took care of her. Lyeisha decided more than 20 years ago that she wanted to follow in those nurses’ footsteps. The nursing major, who attends El Centro College, will do just that: finish her associate degree, earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in that field, and open her own clinical practice for women and children. That’s her dream.
Her daily life also includes taking care of Wilson, her special needs son. Lyeisha has done that on her own, ever since Wilson’s father abandoned both of them. But the sun rises and sets on Wilson, according to his mom, and she describes him as “the most amazing little boy.” Wilson has a rare primordial growth disorder called Russell Silver Syndrome, which was diagnosed when he was only two days old. From premature birth to neonatal intensive care, from reactive airway disease to sleep apnea, from a feeding tube to other daily challenges, Wilson and his mother spend more time at hospitals together than they do at home. But that doesn’t daunt Lyeisha, who says, “In spite of every challenge we face, he still remains the strongest person I know. It has been an honor to be his mom, primary caregiver for the past three years and a witness to God’s miraculous power, first-hand.” Last July, Bryan’s House — a medically managed daycare — accepted Wilson into its program.
When Wilson’s father left him (and Lyeisha) at six months old, he took everything with him that they owned. The demands of caring for a special needs child were just too much for him, she recalls. “Wilson and I were left with nothing. I had lost my family, my home and all of my belongings. I knew I had two choices: I could either give up or pick up the pieces of my shattered life and fight to put the pieces back together again. I chose to fight, and I am still fighting.”
The Phi Theta Kappa member started her classes at El Centro in 2014, and her scholarship from the Erin Tierney Kramp Foundation will help her earn that first nursing degree and move forward. An active member of her church and a volunteer on campus, Hoof and other students and staff members at the El Centro College West Campus were named a “Community Champion” by the Visiting Nurses Association of Texas for their participation in the Meals on Wheels program. “I am determined to never allow any obstacle that I face to triumph over me. I have hope in knowing that the best is yet to come,” she says.
Keaton Johnson says, “My story begins with an end.” That end was the end of his family to divorce when his father disappeared and eventually landed in jail as an addict afflicted by depression. It also was the end of a place to call home when his mother lost her job, and the family became homeless, drifting from relative to relative, looking for a place to stay. “We changed homes as regularly as the seasons,” Keaton recalls, “and I began to feel as though my destiny in life was to fail, just as my parents had (failed) before me.”
When Johnson started high school, however, his life and his outlook began to change. He says, “As I matured, an epiphany came upon me. I realized that if I did not alter my views on life, I would become victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy, so I began to study, to apply myself and to move past my own hardships.” As a result, Keaton graduated at the top of his class as salutatorian. His class ring serves as a constant reminder of his progress and his perseverance.
“To ensure I never waiver, the phoenix became my ever-present symbol engraved upon my class ring, reminding me that even after I have fallen, I can rise once more,” explains Keaton, who has earned a 4.0 grade point average at Eastfield College and tutors other students. He works in the Eastfield Link Learning Center and possesses a work ethic noted by faculty who know him well. A member of the academic honor society Phi Theta Kappa, the biology major plans to go to medical school after he finishes his degree at Eastfield and wants to pursue a profession in anesthesiology in either a hospital or private clinic.
War on the Ivory Coast touched Ange Kobe in ways she at first couldn’t imagine. A disputed election sparked the war, and families who made it to their homes were forced to stay there throughout the bloody conflict. Ange’s father was her hero, and she was forced to see him live through an amputation (he was diabetic), lose his job and die at the hands of military troops as they raided her home and took all of their belongings.
In spite of all their struggles, Ange’s mother decided to send her to the U.S. to continue her education. “What once seemed like a dream (to attend school in the United States) has put my mother in a very difficult situation,” says Kobe. “She has a hard time making enough money to cover my expenses.” At the age of 18, Ange came to the U.S. and decided that she wanted to earn a degree in actuarial science. She didn’t speak any English and needed to find a job because her financial situation was tenuous. Since then, Ange has worked hard in school at Brookhaven College and learned English. She helps other students in a mathematics lab on campus.
A member of the academic honor society Phi Theta Kappa, Kobe says, “I am very proud of myself for completing my associate degree at the end of this year and being two years away from my bachelor’s degree.” Because she has not been able to afford her books, she has been using resources at the college library to study and maintain a high grade point average. The future actuary also is involved in the Rotaract Club, the International Students Club (volunteering as an ambassador) and Brookhaven’s Student Leadership Institute, while serving as secretary of the college’s PTK chapter.
“School has been the only reason why I was able to overcome the difficulties in my life,” says Ange. “Today, I live to learn, to educate myself and to obtain my degrees. I am fully committed and determined to achieve my goal, and receiving the Erin Tierney Kramp scholarship will change my life.”
Two returning Erin Tierney Kramp Encouragement Scholarship Award recipients will again attend DCCCD’s colleges this fall: Carrollton resident Ruth Clason, who is majoring in pre-medicine at Brookhaven College; and Dallas resident Kathy Tran, who also attends Brookhaven College and is majoring in visual communications.
For more information, contact Kathye Hammontree in the DCCCD Foundation office by phone at 214-378-1536 or by email at
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