Sheryl Johnson was the first one in her family to attend college. She passed her love of education on to her two children, including DeAndre Johns.
As Johns’ high school career wound down last spring, they were unsure how to pay for college — until he discovered a life-changing email in his junk folder.
Johnson, a 10-year Army veteran with an 80 percent VA disability rating, knew The American Legion would soon be announcing the recipients of its Legacy Scholarship. She kept asking her son if he had heard anything and encouraged him to keeping checking his email, especially the junk folder.
After working out at the gym, Johns — who played football and basketball, and ran track in high school — found the email in his junk folder. “It was the greatest feeling in the world,” remembered Johns, who received $12,000 for his freshman year at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas. “College is here; it’s coming and I am going to be ready for it.”
He called his mom, and a celebration ensued. “As I was talking with him, I was standing on the deck screaming at him and he was screaming at me,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Yes, you are going to college now.’”
When Johns returned home that evening, they once again celebrated, jumping around and screaming. “When I got the scholarship, it did feel like a jump start,” he said. “It made it feel like this is real. I can make my place in the world because of the scholarship.”
The Legacy Scholarship is available for children of veterans who died on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, or have a combined disability rating of at least 50 percent. Recipients of the needs-based scholarship can receive up to $20,000 each year.
The deadline to finish the application for the 2018-19 school year is April 9. To learn more about the scholarship, visit www.legion.org/scholarships/legacy/about.
To apply, visit www.legion.org/legacy-scholarship-application.
The scholarship allows Johns, who is majoring in petroleum engineering, focus on his studies and not worry about getting a part-time job while attending college. “I want to be a drilling engineer because they get to go out on the work sites,” said Johns, who also plans to get a master’s degree. “That’s what I am looking forward to after I graduate.”
After hearing the news from her son, Johnson called her mom to share the big news.
“College to me is everything,” said Johnson, noting that she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees thanks to the GI Bill. “And I am a first-generation college graduate. I have always told my kids, ‘Anyone can take everything from you except your diploma. The diploma has your name imprinted on it and you can take it everywhere with you.’ I am so thankful that he got this scholarship because it helps us tremendously.”
Johns is a motivated teenager, thanks in part to his mother’s encouragement and visioning.
“College is a major milestone for me because it has been a huge part of our family,” said Johns, whose sister is a junior in high school. “I know that it means so much to my mom. I know that she wants me to have a great life and to succeed in everything I do. It’s a huge milestone for both of us.”
The scholarship is not only a point of pride for the family, it is a relief to offset the cost of college.
“It was all surreal,” Johnson said. “As a mother, you start adding up all expenses and you take out the calculator — college is going to cost this, the scholarship will cover this and I have to pay this much money. It was a big lift off our shoulders so that he does not have to work a part-time job or take out a loan. As a single mom with two kids, it was difficult for me. I tell my kids all the time you have to apply for scholarships because they pay for so much. The American Legion Legacy Scholarship provided so much for him.”
Johnson takes pride in being a member of the world’s largest veterans service organization. “The American Legion does so much — not just for the community — but for students who can’t afford to go to college,” she said. “It’s important for me to give back to an organization that gives so much to veterans and families.”
The Army veteran sees her legacy to her children as being two-fold: being an advocate for education and for giving back to others.
“She’s always been my role model,” Johns said. “It’s always been me and her growing up. (The scholarship) does plant a seed. I want to be able to do stuff like this for other people. Not just when I get older — I can start now. That’s a great feeling.”
Each year, American Legion Riders help raise at least $1 million for the scholarship. The time and effort are not lost on Johns and his mother.
“I would like to say to The American Legion: Thank you so much for creating this opportunity for me because I know that you will do everything that you can and you are doing it with a good heart to make other people successful,” he said. “Without this, I don’t know if (college) would be possible for me right now. And I know that it helps more people than just me.”