In 22 days, 18 hours, 32 minutes, and 35 seconds, I will have officially finished my first year at Notre Dame (not that I’m counting).  It hardly seems real.  22 days, 18 hours, 31 minutes, and 28 seconds.  I’ve already got the prompts for my two final papers, and tomorrow afternoon I’ll be working on first drafts for those.  I’ve been wondering just how I’m going to cart all of my clothes and other miscellaneous belongings back home to Greensburg, and just where I’m going to put them when I get there, in 22 days, 18 hours, 29 minutes, and 37 seconds.

All joking aside, it really is crazy how the year has flown by, and I’m constantly amazed at all the wonderful experiences and opportunities I’ve had this past year as a part of the Notre Dame family.  I’ve met some wonderful new friends, gained experience and knowledge from some interesting and engaging classes, and learned a lot about myself—and that I have a lot more to learn.  I’ve also come to realize just how very blessed I am to have been selected as Decatur County’s Lilly Scholar.  None of this past year would have been possible if it weren’t for the Lilly Scholarship.

I still remember exactly when I found out that I had won the scholarship.  I had just returned home from track practice, and my parents had texted me before I left asking if I’d heard anything yet.  I had been anxious all the past week, waiting for the final decision.  I walked into my house and my parents came walking down the stairs.  They told me they had just received a phone call from the Decatur County Community Foundation, and they both had carefully neutral faces.  I remember saying, “So I didn’t get it then?” I was both disappointed and curious who won; each of the finalists had been so deserving, it could have been any one of them.  I knew no matter who it was, I would be happy that the money had gone to a deserving, hardworking student.  My mom shook her head, and then her face broke out in the biggest grin, and she told me that I actually had won.  Mom, Dad, and I immediately shared a group hug and I remember asking if it was really happening about a half-dozen times.  My younger siblings were ecstatic for me, and once I got the green light from the DCCF, I called all of my aunts and uncles to share the good news.  Everyone was so happy and proud of me, and I felt like I was on cloud nine.  It felt like a huge weight of worry about finances for the next four years had been lifted off my chest; now I could focus on finding the school that offered the programs and opportunities I wanted, that was the best fit for me, rather than simply a school I could afford to attend.

Not a day goes by that I don’t remember how blessed and fortunate I am to have received this scholarship.  When I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to afford my books for class, when I don’t have to sweat about student loans and affording the next semester, and when I can rest assured knowing my education won’t get in the way of my younger siblings’ ability to afford their postsecondary education, I remember how lucky I am to have been given this wonderful opportunity.  Already at Notre Dame I’ve been able to take advantage of classes that help me chase my dream of becoming a published author, as well as classes that engage me to think about familiar issues from new viewpoints, using new methods.  I’ve been able to collaborate with peers in and outside of the classroom, which has enabled me to broaden my perspective of the world around me.  I’ve tried some new hobbies and met some great friends from all over the country and even the world, and even though adjusting to college life has been difficult at times, I’ve found in the Notre Dame family a strong support system that truly makes this campus a home away from home.  I’m learning that it’s okay to struggle, that it’s okay not to be perfect; what truly matters is how you handle the struggle, how you learn from it and how you get back up when you fall.  I’m learning to make the most of each day, to take time for myself and give time to others, and to think about the impact I can have on the world around me.  Already I have gained so much here, and this is only the beginning.

I’d like to close with a simple message.  First, a thank you to each and every person who helped me get to where I am today.  To my teachers, from preschool through high school, and all of the hard work that went into my education, which was far richer than simply learning the material.  To my family, who instilled in me from an early age a curiosity and love of learning.  To my friends, who were always there for me when I needed support, from a shoulder to cry on to a good hearty laugh.  And last but not least, to the wonderful people at the Decatur County Community Foundation and those involved in the Lilly Scholarship: from the bottom of my heart, thank you, for all you did for me and on behalf of every student who has benefitted and will benefit from this life-changing opportunity.  I truly wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for all of you. Thank you.

– Rylie Smith, University of Notre Dame Class of 2021