First Posted: 6/17/2011
LUMBERTON — On April 16, a tornado tore apart Jacob Cool’s family’s home in Lumberton while throwing him across the room, leaving him with shards of glass lodged in his arm.
Two days later, a thick envelope from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made Cool forget about his family’s troubles for a bit.
“The tornado hit that Saturday and he got that acceptance letter that Tuesday, so that was the first thing we had smiled about since,” said Elaine Butler, his mother. “ … Getting that letter was just a moment of ‘God, thank you for doing this.’ We just didn’t know how we were going to make it. He cried when he opened that letter.”
Cool and Elena Hunt, both recent graduates of Lumberton High School, have each been awarded the Gates Millennium Scholars Program scholarship, which pays for their education as long as they keep going to class, all the way up to earning a doctorate. The scholarship, because it is open-ended, doesn’t have a monetary value, but could reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars as it includes tuition, books, housing, travel and more.
There were 1,000 scholarships awarded nationally.
“Lumberton should be proud — out of 29,000 people (who applied) in the United States, and in this small town, two of our kids got it,” Butler said. “That’s a big thing.”
The scholarship is funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which was established in 1999 to provide minority students the opportunity to complete an undergraduate college education in any discipline. They can request funding for a graduate degree program in computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science.
Although the two graduated from high school eight days ago, Hunt is already attending summer classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She hopes to become a doctor, but is not exactly sure what speciality. She is taking classes in exercise and sports science.
“Before I was just wanting to do exercise and sports science and become a physical therapist but now that I have the ability to go all the way through to a doctorate, that’s what I want do,” Hunt said.
Hunt said it was a shock to find that she had been awarded the scholarship.
“Jake found out day before me, so I was thinking maybe I didn’t get it,” Hunt said. “I called my grandmother to tell her to check the mail for me, and she called me and she said I didn’t get anything … Then a few minutes later she called back to say I got it. I started crying. I was in AP Biology, and everyone came up and hugged me and Jake came and hugged me.”
Hunt was involved in Native American Student Association, North Carolina Native American Youth Organization, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, BETA club, National Honor Society, Peace Club, Health Occupations Students of America, Spanish Club, and was a teacher cadet. She is the daughter of the late Jacqueline Hunt and the granddaughter of Marie Jacobs and the late Ralph Hunt.
“I’m glad she got the scholarship,” said Jacobs, Hunt’s grandmother. “That really helps a whole lot. … She puts forth an effort. … The important thing is that Elena has strong characteristic, just like her mother did.”
Cool, the son of Elaine and Cecil Butler, was also involved in BETA Club, National Honor Society, and was the secretary of NASA. He also was the president of DECA Club, and a member of AISES. He is the grandson of Dean and Judy Jacobs of Lumberton and Henry Cecil and Judy Butler.
In his spare time, Cool writes music, plays the guitar, drums, flute and piano, as well as sings.
He is torn between studying criminal justice and going to medical school. He wants to attend The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, at least for his first year, as he was accepted into the Honors College.
His ultimate goal is to work with Heifer International, a nonprofit which works to end world hunger and poverty through self-reliance and sustainability.
“I feel like I have something to give and I would like to give it, but I want to start helping in the communities around here and America,” Cool said. “I know that whatever I do, I just want to help people.”
The two filled out the tedious application in November. It included eight long essay questions.
“They tell you try and let them feel like they got to meet you through the essays,” Cool said. “ … I had really long essays and I was worried I wrote too much.”
Both are excited to see their educational journeys extended.
“At first I was going to go for the regular four years,” Cool said. ” … Now that I have this scholarship, it makes me want to go further and go as far as I can and see what all I can be. … This just opened all the doors.”
— Staff Writer Amanda Munger can be reached at (910) 272-6144 or at [email protected]