KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – The 2019-2020 school year for high school seniors has been anything but ordinary, but Cayla Withers,who just graduated from high school in Kannapolis, North Carolina, ended it with the surprise of a lifetime.
“It was very interesting,” Withers said about her school year. “I never got to go to prom or had a normal graduation.”
Withers was interviewed Friday by North Carolina news channel WSOC-TV. She thought she was being interviewed to talk about what it was like to graduate in the midst of a pandemic. She had no idea the news station was in on a big surprise — one in which the Zeta Phi Beta sorority planned to present her with a historic gift.
Withers had applied for a scholarship the sorority was offering, and she knew she landed a spot as a scholarship finalist. She felt confident in her application, in which she shared that she had been involved in numerous extracurricular activities and had maintained a 4.0 grade-point average. But she immediately broke down in tears when members of the sorority showed up at her house to deliver some important news.
“You are the winner,” the organization’s president told Withers.
“I’m just so overwhelmed,” a college-bound Withers said.
She received $100,000, billed as the largest single scholarship given by a black Greek fraternity or sorority, according to WSOC-TV. It will help her continue her education at the University of Virginia in the fall, where she’ll pursue her dream of becoming an aerospace engineer at NASA.
“She’ll be the first engineer in our family, so that’s exciting,” Withers’ mom, Sheba Cuthbertson, told WSOC-TV.
Withers also has a skin condition that affects her organs and muscles. The weekly treatments are expensive and require her family to drive several hours away, which has depleted her family’s savings for college.
The gift was an unexpected surprise, but certainly one worth celebrating. After the announcement, dozens of members of the sorority from all over the state lined the street in their cars, honking and cheering in honor of the achievement.
“My family grew up picking cotton,” Cuthbertson said. “We’ve come a long way.”
Not only is Withers a standout student with big dreams, but she also founded the junior chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers at her alma mater.
Withers said she reminds herself of the words she wrote in her application essay months ago — words that are just as true now as they were then.
“I am my ancestors’ wildest dream. Radiating pure beauty, strength and magic,” she said.
See more at WSOC-TV.
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