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East senior earns 'Beat the Odds' honor

By JR Ortega
May 31, 2012 at 12:31 a.m.

Ashley Letbetter, 17, is the top scholar of the Justin Forrest Cox "Beat the Odds" scholarship. Letbetter is graduating No. 12 in her East High School class on Saturday.

What happened at the tender age of 8 forever changed Ashley Letbetter.

The now 17-year-old lost her father, who suffered from bipolar disorder, leaving a hole that Ashley has chosen to fill with positivity, activity and vitality.

It is because of Ashley's outlook on life that she is the top scholar of the Justin Forrest Cox "Beat the Odds" scholarship, which had its banquet Thursday night. The $5,000 scholarship is a nice pre-present for when she graduates Saturday with a 3.92 GPA and No. 12 in her East High School class.

"I think it (his death) has made me realize not to take things for granted and try to work hard to make the people in my life proud of me," Ashley said in the comfort of her living room.

Crosses of all shapes and sizes line the walls of the living room, hallway and the entire house - a testament to the family's deep devotion to God.

Since her father's death, Ashley decided to turn everything negative into a positive.

She did this in many ways, primarily through the church.

As a member of Trinity Episcopal, she has been on several U.S. mission trips, including two trips to the Rio Grande Valley and once to Birmingham, Ala., after a violent tornado ripped through the heart of the city.

"It made me realize I'm very lucky," she said. "They (people) were nice and giving, even though they didn't have anything left. It was really heartwarming."

Aside from that, she was heavily involved in the National Honor Society, speech, theater, debate, Health Occupation Students of America and the Leo club.

With graduation only a day away, Ashley has realized just how profound an impact theater, church and HOSA have had on her life. It is because of HOSA that she will attend the University of Texas at Austin in the fall to major in nursing with a concentration in mental health.

Despite all her accolades, Ashley said she's surprised she received the scholarship.

"Everyone has their own story," she said. "So I didn't expect mine to be the one to get the biggest scholarships."

Ashley's mom, Debra Jaime, however, feels the scholarship is well deserved.

Letbetter felt lonely and sad after her father's death, so to see her remember him positively and live life positively is something Ashley's mother is proud of.

"Of course we think about him (her father) all the time. But during a time like this, it's like, 'Look at our daughter, look what she's done,'" she said, a bit teary-eyed. "I know he'd be very, very, very proud of her."

For Ashley, that pride is all that matters.

"I'd hope he'd be happy for me," she said. "That's all I really want."



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