Honoring her father's legacy

Carson Scholar takes lessons about learning to heart

March 18, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Gabrielle Sheppard has always done well in school.

Her father saw to that. Homebound for years after a workplace accident, Barry Sheppard taught his daughter. By the time she went to preschool, Gabrielle could write her first and last name. By fourth grade, she understood advanced math concepts.

"He believed that getting a good education was one of the most important things I could ever do," said Gabrielle, a seventh-grader at Edgewood Middle School. "He wanted me to work hard and always do my best. He made learning fun."

Gabrielle has continued to excel at school this year but has done so amid anguish: Two weeks into the school year, her father died suddenly of a liver and heart disease at the age of 42.

Upon her return to school, Gabrielle did her best to press on. She has maintained a 4.0 grade point average despite the loss of her father.

"I knew my father wouldn't want me to be sad and give up," Gabrielle said recently. "Education was very important to him. So when I did my schoolwork, he was right there with me."

Her efforts during a difficult time did not go unnoticed. Gabrielle was named a Carson Scholar, chosen by teachers as the school's nominee from among 140 eligible students.

She joins nine other Harford County students who will be honored next month at a banquet in Baltimore. Each will receive a $1,000 scholarship toward college.

"Gabby is an extremely hard worker," said Faith Sollod, a language arts teacher at the school who wrote the essays for the nomination. "She knows when to be social and when to be a student. She seems to never have down time. She is driven and determined."

The scholarship program is run by a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1994 by Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, a Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon, and his wife, Candy. The scholarships are awarded to students in several states who demonstrate academic excellence and dedication to their community.

Candidates in grades four through 11 are nominated by teachers. They must have a grade point average of 3.75 or higher and demonstrate humanitarian qualities.

Gabrielle's love of learning was instilled early by her father. Barry Sheppard bypassed college to take a job as a steel fabricator so that he could afford to marry.

"Not attending college was one of Barry's only regrets in life," said Nancy Sheppard, Gabrielle's mother. "He wanted Gabrielle to learn from his experience and to go to college to be whatever she wanted to be."

Gabrielle took care of her father while her mother worked as a school bus driver.

"She made him peanut butter sandwiches and helped him however she could." Nancy Sheppard said. "When he died, I didn't know how to tell her."

Gabrielle carried on better than those around her expected.

"Gabby amazed us all," said Adam Weston, the guidance counselor at Edgewood Middle. "She came back to school and she excelled academically."

Gabrielle was clear on what she had to do.

"My father taught me that no matter what's happening or going on around me, school never ends, wherever you go you have to learn," Gabrielle said. "I knew he would want me to work hard to be what I want to be, an equine veterinarian. I had to do well for him."

While she was coping with her father's death, Gabrielle read Heartland, Coming Home by Lauren Brooke. In the book, the main character endures the death of her mother.

Gabrielle chose the book as the subject of one of the essays required for the scholarship application. She wrote about the way the character, Amy, made mistakes that Gabrielle tried to avoid while dealing with losing her father. Gabrielle wrote that Amy became angry about her mother's death and took it out on family and friends.

"After reading how Amy's friends reacted to her anger, I though about how my friends would feel," Gabrielle wrote. "There is no way that I could do that to them. My friends are the people who helped me be able to get over the death of my father."

Gabrielle also compared Amy's struggle to run the family farm with succeeding in school.

"Amy was able to carry on her mom's business after her loss. It showed me that it was possible to get over my loss as well," Gabrielle wrote.

"Education was very important to my father. He always wanted me to go to college and become someone that will make a difference."

OTHER SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS

The other scholarship winners in the county are:

Vincent Caniglio III, a senior at North Harford High

Shweta Das, a sophomore at Aberdeen High

Kelley Gunther, eighth grade, Bel Air Middle

David Link, eighth grade, Havre de Grace Middle

Julianne Reif, fourth grade, Hall's Cross Roads Elementary

Jacob Smucker, fourth grade, Churchville Elementary

Benjamin Barsam, fifth grade, Hickory Elementary

Lyric Gaines, fourth grade, Abingdon Elementary

Garrett Sadtler, fifth grade, Jarrettsville Elementary

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