Following is the text of 1992 Scholar Kim Rabon Hatcher’s address at the Byrnes Scholars 53th annual luncheon, June 11, 2016.
It is a pleasure, yet very surreal, to be standing before you today. You see, there are a lot of words that people have used to describe me… funny, moody, assertive, and athletic (just kidding about that one). But, I have never been described as an eloquent speaker by any means. Don’t get me wrong, I can talk the ear off everyone, but public speaking down right frightens me. When the scholars board asked me to speak at this luncheon, I had to make sure I was hearing the request right, and then get through an anxiety attack! So please bear with me as I may stammer and stutter while telling you about one of the most precious parts of my life… this Foundation.
When I sat down to write this speech, my mind was in a frenzy. I wondered how do I begin to put into words how this organization has impacted my life over the last 24 years. How do I describe the immediate acceptance and unconditional love that was given to me when I walked into my first June Luncheon? Can I accurately put into words how these people have become my family? I honestly don’t think I can. I can say that this college scholarship that I applied for, turned out to be one of the greatest blessings.
To fully share with you the love I have for this scholarship and the people within this organization, you have to know a little bit about where it started. I grew up in Florence, SC with my adoptive parents. We lived in a single wide trailer on the other side of the tracks. We were on a fixed income, but I grew up happy and taken care of. I started working at the age of 15 to help fund my own teenage expenses. When I was in 11th Grade, my father passed away. He had some long standing heart issues, but his death was rather unexpected. I was about to begin my senior year of high school. It was a busy, exciting, expensive, and sorrowful time. There had never been any question that I was going to college. So like all the other seniors, I searched and applied for scholarships. I was reading the newspaper one day, and saw the ad for the Byrnes Foundation Scholarship. Meeting the criteria, I applied that night. To my delight, I got an interview. I went to Columbia and sat before the panel of directors and we had a lively discussion as they tried to get to know me in a matter of a few minutes. I remember on that drive home, that I felt good. Not necessarily about the outcome of the scholarship, but the people while questioning me, also made me smile and laugh. I found out in April before I graduated, that I had been selected as a ’92 Scholar. I attended the June Luncheon, and just like that, my life as a Byrnes Scholar began.
I would’ve never thought as I sat nervously awaiting for my name to be called 24 years ago, that I would be standing before you today. Over the years, we have heard many influential speakers that knew James F. Byrnes or had a connection with him. As the years go by, the direct links are unfortunately diminishing. I had the privilege of learning much through the years about this gracious man through scholars that did. One of those scholars was Rev. Hal Norton. When I received my scholarship, Rev. Norton was the President of the Foundation Board. He embodied all the characteristics I am sure Pop Byrnes would’ve wanted in his own children. I learned much about the man behind this foundation by listening as he lovingly told of his experiences as one of the first scholars. He was an amazingly funny, loving, Christian man. He was my Pop Byrnes, if you will. I had the honor of him presenting my scholarship to me at my high school. I remember him calling my name, me walking up, and he gave me a warm hug. It would be the first of many times I would seek out those arms in the years to come. I remember him saying “There are always going to be young people who have lost one/both parents who are going to need what we have to offer, and they will discover that what we offer is much more greater than money”. Truer words were never spoken.
While this started as a way to help fund college, it became so much more than that. I truly believe that my most cherished memories and relationships were formed after the money stopped coming. Friendships were made during the mandatory events during college, but the most special times were when people made the choice to come back after graduation. We were always told that if we opened our hearts and minds to experience what this foundation was trying to give us that the rewards would come. I am here to tell you, they are still coming. It has been amazing to go through different phases of life with this family. I have seen the children that were babies when I started, grow into working professionals. I have grown up myself, gotten married, and now have my own children that are growing up within this group. I have been blessed to have formed forever bonds with several of my fellow scholars that are priceless. Even though our lives get busy and we may only see each other a couple times a year, it is without question that they are there for me if I ever needed them.
Just last night, I had dinner with some of my closest Byrnes family. We talked, reminisced, and laughed. I looked around the table at each of them, and moments that we each shared came to mind. We have been there for each other through marriages, divorce, births, and deaths. We have matured from college kids to adults, and I look back over the years and can truly appreciate how meaningful that is. All because we each had unfortunate losses in our lives, that led us to apply for this scholarship. It’s hard to believe that so much joy and love resulted from a time of loss and despair in our lives. While all of our stories are different, it’s a unique bond that brought us together. It is a blessing we can all empathize and provide a refuge for each other.
With all that said, I wish I could say every scholar has had the same experience as me. We would need a room twice as big as this one for the luncheon. In 1992, we had 20 students receive scholarships. Out of that 20, 4 of us are active within the Foundation. Today, we welcome 8 scholars. Math is not my best subject, but even I can see that more scholars need to be motivated to participate and be productive within this organization. The Foundation Board continues to go through the grueling process of narrowing down the recipients for these precious scholarships each year. It is the hope that students will be successful in college, begin their own lives, and continue be a presence in this family for the generations to come. It is becoming vital to the living legacy of Mom and Pop Byrnes that we strive to make this Foundation a priority, instead of an option after graduation. We are going to be the ones that the scholars of the future are looking to, to provide the safe haven we have all received. Please remember that we were chosen as Byrnes Scholars because a group of people saw something special in us, in the hopes that in return we would also choose the Foundation.
Congratulations to our seniors on your accomplishments! Embrace the feelings you had from the last Super Weekend, and hold on to them as you begin your grown up lives. We love each of you and look forward to continuing to make memories with you as alumni.
To our new scholars, do not be weary! Graciously accept the unconditional love that comes with this scholarship. The money for school is a fraction of the benefits you can receive. Welcome to the family!
In return for their generosity and support, Mom and Pop Byrnes asked only two things from us: become the very best people we could become in life, and make sure their legacy of family continues for those who come after us.
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