September 29, 1993 was the day I made my debut into the world; proudly christened Wheeler Dean Parker III by proud parents. There must have been a sense of just how hard life can be because I just refused to meet the normal markers of progress for babies. Perhaps it was the premonition of what it would be like to show up for kindergarten as an autistic student with a 50-year-old dad in tow. How many, “is that your Grandpa”, jokes can one struggling kid endure. Perhaps the worst to come would be the confusion over why we had to leave mom at the hospital so often or why she cried and made such sad noises. That I have achieved any success is because my mom & dad believed I could feel the fear and do it anyway.
Without a doubt a life filled with difficulties has prepared me to persevere in attaining my goals for my future. Trials such a diagnosis of autism, losing my mom to breast cancer, having a Vietnam War veteran for a father, and devastating family financial hardships motivate me to succeed at a career I’m passionate about, Aerospace Management. Additionally, I plan to encourage and assist others with autism–who have the desire–to find a suitable place in an Aerospace Program. At the age of six months my mom noticed I was not progressing normally, so she researched and took advantage of every treatment available in order that I would have the best life possible. I started with therapy at home, and then transitioned to special classes. With a lot of work, I have become an honor student. My parents were determined to see that I would not use autism as an excuse to fail, but as a reason to strive to become successful.
During my mom’s illness, as the cancer spread to her liver and brain, she underwent 21 surgeries and countless chemo and radiation treatments. When her reconstruction was found to be cancerous she endured another reconstruction along with a hysterectomy during an eighteen-hour operation. Sadly, despite these procedures, my mom passed when I was eleven, but not before leaving my brother and me with strong family values love for one another, and a strong work ethic. My father suffers from war related PTSD and chemical exposure, and these problems are aggravated by his inability to fund my education. Higher education is not just my dream, but also my father’s as I could be the first in our family to graduate from college. Dad did not have this opportunity because his parents were sharecroppers which required that he help farm just so the family could survive. Although this was a hardship, he learned valuable lessons in service to others which he passed along to his sons.
While growing up it was demonstrated to me that there was always someone whose need was greater than my own, so it became important to: mow yards for the church and those who couldn’t afford to hire someone; be kind to children who had lost a parent; make sure the elderly in the neighborhood had meals or that their pipes didn’t freeze in winter; or just to stop by to say hello and see if someone needed anything. Our family’s involvement in the church also afforded many opportunities to learn, share, serve and move forward with faith.
Though my desire for this career field was born early when I started flying remote controlled airplanes, it is my mother and father’s courage to face life’s challenges that continues to inspire me today, and I know they are proud of my efforts. In that regard, this scholarship is important so that I can provide for myself and also make giving back in memory of those who have given so much to me a reality.
It is the year 2017. I have graduated from Oklahoma State University with honors and have multiple offers to manage a small regional airport. Thank you Team Kelly for making it happen. Now if you will help me once more I will set up an autism scholarship just like yours after six months on the job.