Nate Smith, inspired by his dad’s service, gave back during the month of October. A freshman at Virginia Tech, Smith dyed his hair pink in an effort to raise awareness and donations throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
His great-grandmother and great aunt died of breast cancer. “Even though I didn't know them very well, it is something that does impact my family,” said Smith, who estimates he talked with more than 200 people about his campaign and raised over $400. “It also means my sister has a higher risk of it. So being able to try and raise funds and raise awareness for it is something that I really like to do.”
As a recipient of The American Legion Legacy Scholarship, Smith understands the importance of helping others.
“Without the American Legion Legacy Scholarship, I would've ended up having to go to a community college for at least my first two years of college,” said Smith, who lives in Bristol, Tenn., and plans to major in biomechanical engineering. “At Virginia Tech, the out-of-state tuition's quite steep. So being able to afford it was really difficult, even with a combination of different scholarships I've gotten. And even now, I have to work at a dining hall to help pay the remainder of my tuition. The American Legion Legacy Scholarship is really the only reason I'm able to afford being at Virginia Tech.”
Smith expresses gratitude for veterans who served their nation, as well as their continued service such as funding the scholarship.
“Veterans have already done so much for our country,” he said. “The fact they're even providing for me further into college is amazing to me because I feel they've done enough for me, but they've continued to want to serve people. And that's amazing.”
The American Legion Legacy Scholarship is a needs-based scholarship that is awarded annually to children of post-9/11 veterans who were either killed in action or have a VA disability rating of 50 percent or greater. The application period for the 2022-23 school year begins Jan. 1 and the deadline is April 15.
Shaun Smith, who served in the Navy for 24 years, suffered back injuries during an overseas tour. He also has post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He's still able to walk around and move, but the pain does hinder some of the things he could do some days,” Nate says of his father who is a member of American Legion Post 35 in Chandler, Ariz. “His PTSD is another huge part of why he is considered a disabled veteran. It's something that him and our family had to struggle through, especially right when he got back because there were a lot of times when he couldn't go out and do certain things certain days because he just was not having good days. But he worked through it, and he persevered through it, and he is continuing to get better today.”
Looking back at his dad’s service, Smith says there were challenges but they helped shaped his life.
“There were times that were really rough for me as a kid,” he recalled. “But it helped develop me into who I am and helped develop a lot of my opinions on the way I look at the world and what he's done for me. And the fact that he has served for so long has definitely inspired me to work my hardest in everything that I do because every day, he worked his hardest to protect our country and protect my family from anything that could be a threat to America.”
It is his father’s determination that especially inspires Smith.
“When he set his mind to something, he was going to do it, no matter what it took, no matter how much work he had to put in or how many hours he had to put in,” he said. “That is definitely something that's inspired me all the way up to now in college, when I have to spend hours of time on some projects and be able to work through them, despite the tiredness of not wanting to do them, being able to look up to him and see what he did for 24 years of his life working nonstop sometimes has really inspired me.”
That dedication will surely help as Smith embarks on a challenging major, which has a 50 percent dropout rate.
“You need to be dedicated to your major when you're an engineering major,” he explained. “Engineering is one of the harder majors at Virginia Tech. Dedication is definitely something I have to keep, or else I'll be one of the 50 percent that does drop out. But due to the fact I've learned dedication for so long and learned to stay determined on what I want, I don't feel that will be a problem because it has helped me build good study habits.”
The Smiths worked hard on their relationship. It wasn’t easy when the elder Smith returned from deployment.
“If I had to describe my relationship with my dad, I would say he's my best friend. We've been through a lot together, especially after he came back from overseas. Me and him had to work really hard to keep our relationship good with a lot of things he wasn't able to talk about, or he was very closed off about. Since my junior year of high school, mine and his relationship really flourished again.”
As Smith continues his transition to college, he is full of gratitude. He knows his father grew up in a bad situation but was determined to provide a good life for his own family.
“Honestly, the scholarship means everything to me, and the sacrifices that my dad made to get me here. He's done everything he could since I've been born to make sure me and my three siblings have the best life we possibly can. And that includes helping me get this American Legion scholarship and helping me be here now because he knew we didn't have the financial capability of sending me to college outside of being able to find scholarships. He really was a huge help in all the scholarships I have.”