As a high school junior, Rocky Coss dropped out of school to help financially support his family.
Although he earned a GED at 19, his lack of education led him to work long, hard hours in physically demanding jobs. He wanted a way to earn money using his mind instead of his back.
So in December 2010 when he graduated from Tyler Junior College with an associate’s degree in heating, air conditioning and refrigeration, it was not only a goal achieved, but also a life-changing accomplishment.
“Walking across the stage that night is something I will never forget,” Coss, 34, said, fighting back tears. “For the first time, I knew what it felt like to graduate.”
Today, the Van resident, who also earned two certificates of proficiency from the college, works as a trainer for Sears teaching other people how to repair appliances.
Coss was one of two TJC alumni and scholarship recipients who addressed attendees during the Azalea Orthopedics Scholarship Golf Tournament luncheon benefitting the TJC Foundation.
The luncheon, which took place Thursday at Hollytree Country Club, preceded the golf tournament, which is in its 26th year.
This year’s tournament brought in about $73,000 in sponsorships, more than ever before.
Organizers hope it will yield a record number of scholarships, topping last year’s record-setting $64,000 in scholarships.
TJC President Dr. Mike Metke shared some of the highlights of the school including recent public-private partnerships, campus civility measures, and the academic achievements of all students, including student athletes.
About 60 percent of TJC students require financial aid, Metke said.
Tournament chairman Darin Newhouse praised the advisory committee members and those responsible for organizing the event. He said it serves as a way of investing in kids, who are the future.
In addition to Coss, Tyler resident and 2009 TJC graduate Kristy Howell shared about how the receipt of a golf tournament scholarship in 2011 enabled her to quit her job and focus entirely on her schoolwork.
Mrs. Howell worked for a dental office as a dental assistant for several years and loved it, but wanted to do more. She chose to attend TJC while working full-time.
She said it was an intense time and with the support of her family, she left her job so she could devote her time to her studies and family. In 2010, she learned she received a TJC scholarship.
“Not only was it a financial help, but it boosted my confidence,” she said. “Somebody else was believing in me.”
She said it also held her accountable to finish her training, which she did when she graduated in spring 2011.
Now she works as a dental hygienist at the Bethesda Health Clinic in Tyler where she often treats people with limited to no previous dental care. With her training, she is able to help get them on track and teach them the basics of oral care.
“Because of your contribution to me with this scholarship, I’m able to pay it forward now,” she said.
During the luncheon, the college also took the opportunity to recognize this year’s scholarship recipients, who are benefitting from last year’s tournament.
Fifty-four students received $1,000 scholarships for this school year. In addition, two students — Markita Nickelberry and Hayden Gable — were this year’s corporate scholarship recipients.
Ms. Nickelberry, a 2012 John Tyler High School graduate, received a $5,000 scholarship sponsored by Delek Refining Ltd.
Ms. Nickelberry, 20, a surgical technology major, plans to practice in that field and possibly become a surgeon one day.
Gable, a 2013 Van High School graduate, received a $5,000 scholarship sponsored by HGR+Turner Joint Venture. Gable, 18, a music major, wants to become a band director.