Overcoming adversity is the path to success for NC students

Last week, I attended a reception on our campus in Research Triangle Park, NC, which honored the achievements of Kayla Kinard, Danny Ball, Ashley Singleton, Dione Rivers, Christina Unruh, and Deborah McBride. These six students received GSK Opportunity Scholarships to help them get their college degrees and pursue their dreams.

It’s not every day that I meet someone through work who has overcome incredible adversity, and is on a solid trajectory to achieving their lifelong dreams. That day I was lucky enough to meet six! I have to say, I can’t remember when I've done something that I've enjoyed as much or found as professionally rewarding.  

With our video crew, I visited Kayla's home, where she lives with her mother. During Kayla’s senior year in high school, her mother became seriously ill. Kayla took it upon herself to pay the household bills and despite working incredibly hard, often worried how she would afford her next meal. During this time she missed so much school that she was threatened with juvenile court if she did not make up her missed days.  Amazingly, this young woman finished high school…as her class salutatorian. She now plans to go to college and enter the medical field so she can help others with serious illnesses. As she said, “I’m trying to pursue dreams that may seem far away now, but soon will become reality.” WNCN News even interviewed Kayle.

We also went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to meet Danny Ball. I won’t soon forget that day. Danny and I discussed his personal story, which includes a childhood filled with severe neglect, being separated from his parents, and during the next 14 years being placed in 20 foster homes. Danny now focuses on his education. He is about to begin pursuing a masters degree in social work so he can help others who share similar struggles. As he told me his story, the inner strength and determination he conveyed, and his clear passion for helping others filled the room. I have absolutely no doubt he’ll achieve his goals.  

There were some less-than-dry eyes in the audience as we listened to their stories and watched them receive their awards one by one. I felt proud that GSK supports students who I know will make a real difference in the lives of others for many years to come.