Graduate who 'Beat the Odds' surprised with scholarship
May 19, 2011 at 12:19 a.m.
Ebb Garrett opened by saying he's different. "Humorously weird," he called it.
Those who know him best, like Sue Schmaltz, his counselor at Victoria West High school, conceded he is different. And it's that uniqueness that gave Garrett, 18, the ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable hardships to become a successful student, an award-winning athlete and, by all accounts, a downright good young man.
"I came a long way and proved a lot of people wrong," Garrett said while sitting in Schmaltz's rotating office chair.
His head down toward the counselor's desk, Garrett spoke humbly, searching for words, when he wasn't busting wisecracks.
"I'm going to do my nails," he joked out of nowhere, grabbing Schmaltz's bright red nail file.
The strong yet sentimental graduate was avoiding questions about his accomplishments - about how much more impressive they are considering his troubled past.
Hours later, Garrett's successes would be thrust into the spotlight, and he'd receive a surprise that would leave the quick-witted jokester speechless.
Garrett is this year's top Justin Forrest Cox "Beat the Odds" scholarship winner, and in the 14 years the scholarship has been awarded, he's the first recipient to be the No. 1 choice of every member on the scholarship committee.
Though Garrett doesn't like to recount the details of his struggles, his essay to the scholarship committee spelled out a bit of the family life that left Garrett essentially without a home, supporting himself with odd jobs and moving from house to house his senior year of high school.
With his father mostly absent and his mother working two jobs to make ends meet, Garrett and his four siblings got into their share of trouble. A night at juvenile detention sounded better than a night at home, he told the committee. A peek at his rap sheet showed something like 20 referrals to the principal's office in middle school, Garrett said.
He recalled walking two miles to eat at Christ's Kitchen and shooting squirrels and rabbits with pellet guns for dinner. When that didn't work, he and his siblings would borrow food from neighbors and shower at their friends' homes when the family's water was cut off.
But then Garrett discovered football.
"I have a lot of anger built up from my family life, so I would take it out on the field, which was legal, so I wouldn't get in trouble," Garrett said. "It helps me accomplish things that I never wanted to accomplish before."
Garrett said because his older brothers never graduated, he never thought about graduating high school, much less going to college. And if anybody had told him he'd be receiving a scholarship on top of it, he would have told them they had the wrong guy.
"My junior year, I decided to break the cycle," he said. "It was the first year I had a lot riding on my shoulders with football and grades and being a leader," Garrett said.
He dropped the nail file distraction to wipe away tears with the inside of his arm. After several seconds of silence, Garrett was finally able to let out what motivated him to turn his life around.
"My little brother and sister," he said. "I want them to do better than me. That way I can set the bar, and they can try to beat it."
By the next year, he'd find at West High School the support system he needed to become that kind of inspiration to his siblings.
In particular, Schmaltz, Assistant Principal John Hinton and Principal Debbie Crick honed the potential they saw in Garrett.
Schmaltz was instrumental in helping Garrett apply for Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, where he will attend classes in fall. Together, they've established a living situation and prepared the necessary financial aid and registration documents.
"He's one of the ones over my career that I've seen just come from nothing and have the opportunity to make it," Schmaltz said.
The two taunted and teased each other, but their appreciation for one another permeated the counselor's office. Garrett said she knows everything about him.
"He keeps me laughing. He has the ability to kind of judge what's going on with you and what your day's like," Schmaltz said. "There's a charisma to him. He's just a really good kid."
Along with her tears, Schmaltz was hardly able to contain the excitement of the surprise that awaited one of her favorite students.
Thursday night, at the "Beat the Odds" scholarship award banquet, Garrett found out the $5,000 scholarship he thought he was receiving would be doubled, thanks to an anonymous donor.
Again displaying his humor in an overwhelming time, Garrett approached the microphone.
"I'll figure out who you are," he said to the audience in which the anonymous donor was sitting.
Then, a second surprise.
Another anonymous donor who was so moved by Garrett's story, matched the original $5,000 award, sending Garrett off to college with a total of $15,000.
"I feel like a millionaire," Garrett was quick to respond.
But again, it took a few more seconds of silence and sniffles before Garrett could find his final, simple words.
"Thank you," he said.