Melanie Howard is crying.
She's a teacher here at Argentine Elementary school. She thought she was coming in for a parent meeting. She wasn't. She had no idea what was coming.
As she walked into school she found herself facing a small group of people and cameras.
"I'm actually not a parent. My name is Kristi Hottenstein; I'm Vice Chancellor at the University of Michigan-Flint," walking over to Melanie.
"What is this? Am I being Punk'd?" Melanie laughs but she's nervous, shaking.
She tears up, "Are you serious?!"
This is wonderfully serious. Kristi holds up the official notification letter. Melanie grasps her heart with both hands and rushes to hug Kristi. Pretty soon the school is full of laughter and tears…and hugs. Melanie is crying. She's hugging colleagues, the Superintendent, and throws both arms around her son, who's here for the big surprise.
Kristi tells her, "The committee was so impressed with your essay and your application and we can't wait for you to become part of the University of Michigan-Flint and make the Flint community even better!"
Melanie fights back happy tears, "Oh my GOSH! Thank you so much! Oh my gosh! Thank you SO MUCH!"
This master's degree scholarship covers the costs of two academic years of tuition and fees to help the next generation of leaders. "As business here grows and new businesses emerge," says VC Hottenstein, "new leadership has to thrive and grow. That's the goal of this scholarship."
For Melanie Howard, this scholarship means a lot. "It means I can focus so much more on my studies without that worry. And the thought that I am sacrificing so much for my family. I just said to my husband yesterday, 'Are we sure we want to do this? It's gonna be a lot. Some big sacrifices and time and…'" her voice trails off. She stares at the official letter held firmly in her hands, "…it's amazing! To go to school and not worry about the bills and everything!"
Melanie will start working on her master's in education soon. She'll put what she learns into action in her classroom immediately, and has goals that take aim at an even bigger target. "Along with classroom improvement, my passion is to coach other teachers and that will create and inspire more leaders."
The tears continue, but no more surprises. For Melanie and her family, it's a big day. And it's the start of something that's sure to mean a lot for our community for generations.