Mack’s Back to School

The milestones faced on the journey of grief generate profound feelings of loss and longing. Emotionally and physically painful are holidays, Mack’s birthdays, and the anniversaries marking the last day I saw her and the terrible day that I lost her. But as parents across the country are celebrating the First Day of School and marking important academic milestones in their children’s lives, I am celebrating the First Day of School, too. August back-to-school season stirs in me more joy and gratitude than sadness, because it marks the beginning of a new academic year for another talented recipient of the Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Memorial Scholarship at Truman State University.

As fragile mortal beings, our time on the planet is limited, and there is so little time to make an imprint on the world. The best that most human beings can do over the course of a lifetime is be true to themselves, be kind to others, and apply their particular talents for some sort of greater good. In just twenty short years, Mack accomplished what it takes most of us sixty years or more to understand and to achieve. She was always true to herself, comfortable in her freckled skin and confident in her definition of herself as an athletic, nail-polish wearing, goofy intellectual. She was never mean-spirited, judgmental, or unkind. She used her talents of humor, charm, and unconditional love to make a significant and lasting impression on the lives of her family members and friends. And because of the impact Mack made on the people who had the good fortune to know her or to make her unforgettable acquaintance, an endowed scholarship in her name at her alma mater perpetuates her beautiful spirit. Therefore, every August, Mack goes back to school, too, making a difference in the life of another special young person who is preparing to share their talents with the world.

Laurie Shipley, a senior from Kansas City, Missouri, is this year’s scholarship recipient. Laurie, who will earn a BFA in the spring, is a creative writing major, a Spanish minor, and a member of the Truman State Color Guard. Her Spanish minor led her to a study-abroad term last summer in Costa Rica, where she took classes in Alajuela. After graduation, Laurie will be staying on at Truman to earn a Master’s degree in education. She plans to become an elementary school teacher and is anxious to share her love of literature and writing with students.

The reason why back-to-school season is special for me should be abundantly clear, and I am sending big-Mack hugs to everyone who is celebrating a milestone First Day of School this August. For me, the season will always be a time to celebrate Mack’s beautiful life, to rejoice in her spirit alive in the world, and to feel gratitude for all of the people who have contributed to the scholarship these past four years (a special shout-out to the Sunrise Rotary Club in Springfield, Illinois, for their renewed annual contribution). Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for loving Mack. And thank you for helping us to immortalize the impact of Mack’s beautiful life, one beautiful student at a time.

The Mackenzie Kathleen Memorial Scholarship Fund
Truman State University Foundation
205 McClain Hall, Kirksville, MO 63501
800-452-6678
http://www.truman.edu/giving/ways-of-giving/

Laura Shipley

Magical Medicine

There is no magical medicine for the heartbreak of losing a child, but I have learned that it is possible to keep my lost girl with me. In living through the past ten months without Mack, I have found some solace in keeping her spirit alive in my life—telling Mack stories in this blog, talking to her every day, and working hard to live a life that would make her proud. Keeping Mack alive in this way gives me strength for the good days and helps me to breathe a little easier through the bad ones. But I have also learned that time will not heal my heart and that keeping Mack with me is simply not enough for me. It has also become imperative to share my Mack with people who never had the chance to know her; it is important for me to give her life some historical meaning. I need for the world to know that Mack was here, that she loved life and lived it with a true heart, that she left a lasting imprint on the lives of her family members and her friends, and that she made a difference in the communities in which she lived and loved and learned.

When we made the decision to establish a scholarship in Mack’s honor, just days after losing her, I knew then that it was a fitting memorial to my lost girl. Even through the shock and horror of those first terrible days, I wanted to believe that endowing a scholarship at Truman State University—where Mack had blossomed as a young woman, a scholar, and a writer—might someday have the power to bring me solace. But now that the Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Scholarship has its first recipient, I realize that I grossly underestimated its power to do some good in my life and in the world. Now that we have bestowed our first annual $1,000 scholarship, I feel its power. This perpetual scholarship brings me peace the likes of which I never believed possible. But more importantly, it carries Mack’s incredible light into the world and allows my special girl to continue to make a lasting imprint on the lives of people, even though she will never know them. Every year, a special student who values education, who loves writing, and who wants to experience the world will know about my Mack, will be a beneficiary of her generous spirit, and will achieve their dreams in life thanks at least in part to the fact that Mack lived and loved the life she did. And wow…wow…what an amazing gift…what a magical medicine it is.

For making this magical medicine available to me, I will be eternally grateful to all of the more than 120 donors to the scholarship, which is fully endowed and will continue in perpetuity. And in honor of Mack’s scholarship and in recognition for all of the students in the world who will begin a brand new year of learning this fall, please join me in feeling the power of this scholarship to lift our spirits but more importantly to extend the reach of Mack’s personal magic for making a difference in the world.

The Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Scholarship, 2015

So let me introduce you to the young woman who has the honor of being Mack’s first scholarship recipient. Megan Matheney is a sophomore, pursuing a creative writing B.F.A. and a minor in Italian studies (she will study abroad in Italy next spring). A native of a small town in northern Missouri, Megan is the perfect recipient for three Mack-like reasons. First, she is an athlete. She holds a third-degree black belt in TaeKwon-do, a sport that Mack practiced for a time when she was very young. Second, Megan very much relates to Mack’s discomfort in dressy clothes. And third, she loves animals; she grew up in the country with numerous dogs, cats, horses, and guinea pigs. Like Mack, Megan basically grew up in a zoo, and animals are a very important part of her life.

Here is Megan with her cat…

The cat who thinks he%27s a dog

And here is my Mack with her friend’s college kitty, King Tut (Mack LOVED to kittysit)…

kitty

Here is the scholarship announcement and official recipient bio…

scholarship 2015-01  scholarship 2015-02

And here is Mack being goofy when I asked her to pose with the TSU sign…

at Truman

A Purple Bulldog

Last week, a large envelope arrived in the mail with a Truman State University logo in bold purple letters. This was the kind of envelope that announced quite clearly that it conveyed a very important and official parcel. Upon holding that envelope in my hands and feeling the somewhat squishy character of the item within it, my heart skipped a beat…or maybe two…as I realized that the envelope and its contents possessed the feel of a padded diploma portfolio. I am not sure why I knew it, but even before I pulled out the lush purple folder with Truman State University embossed in gold letters across the front, I knew that Mack’s college—the school she had picked on her own, the school she had embraced with every atom of her budding intellectual being, the school she loved—was recognizing her collegiate accomplishments along with its spring 2015 graduates.

True Bulldog 2

The tears freely flowed down my cheeks and I forgot to breathe as I fixed my blurred gaze upon that beautiful diploma. I cried because this represented Mack’s hard academic work and her success at Truman. I cried because she will not graduate with her best college friends and classmates one year from now. I cried because this will be her only college diploma. But I also cried because I realized that Mack had made a very wise college decision. That she had chosen a special school that embraced her as much as she had embraced it. And that my baby girl had spent her magical two years of college at a very special campus where individual students matter. The letter accompanying the diploma validated my realizations, and the tears just kept coming as a read it…

True Bulldog 1

I am grateful and happy that Mack chose Truman State. Mack was incredibly happy there. And at every turn, she met teachers, administrators, editors, a coach, and friend upon friend upon friend who were all happy that Mack was there, too. But I can tell you that back in March of 2012, when Mack was procrastinating her college choice right down to the wire (of course), I had no idea Truman was such a special place. I had not even heard of this small liberal arts school in rural, northern Missouri until after we began searching for a suitable substitute for Oberlin College, which was way out of our price range. In our last-minute research, we became impressed with Truman’s rankings for academics and value. After we visited Truman for the first time, we came away with a pretty good feeling about the lovely little campus with its solid red-brick buildings, lush green spaces, and architecturally impressive library. The academics, especially in English, the varied writing opportunities available to all levels of students, and an invitation to play NCAA Division II golf added to the allure. But I was still worried it would be a poor substitute for Oberlin; and late in the game, I favored Mack’s other choice, Saint Louis University.

Once Mack narrowed her choices to Truman and SLU, she refused to discuss it further. She wanted to be left alone to quietly make a decision on her own. I tried not to press her, as I wanted the final decision to be hers; but, of course, I fretted more as each day passed. Mack’s nonchalance about it added to my stress, but she expressed no worry whatsoever. Finally, just a couple of days before a deposit for housing was due, Mack chose Truman State. She was calm and deliberate in delivering her decision and explaining it. She told me that she believed it made the most sense. It was affordable and would require very little in the way of student loans. It offered the liberal arts curriculum she wanted, as well as a strong creative writing department and a B.F.A. if she decided to pursue that path. And playing golf for free was “the bacon on the burger,” she quipped. Mack’s decision made sense, I had to admit. But I immediately worried that she had simply made a practical decision, choosing Truman not because it spoke to her heart but because it was more affordable. When I expressed my doubt about her choice, Mack said: “Mom, the school color is purple. I’m going to be a Bulldog. What could be better than being a purple bulldog?!!” I responded that a college wardrobe of her favorite color and the lovability of the mascot was no way to choose a college. “Nah! Hush, hush, Momma Bear,” she chided me. “It’s all good. I’ve found the right place. I feel it.”True Bulldog 5

Of course, like so many other things in her life about which I had fears or doubts, Mack was right all along. Her hunch…her feeling…about Truman State was, indeed, all good. Within just a few days of arriving on that campus, it was Mack’s place. She found a comfortable home there, and it was from that amazing little college in northern Missouri that I watched the scholar in Mack emerge. Truman was the place where she bloomed and beamed and blossomed. It is a good feeling now to understand so very completely that the most important choice that Mack made as a young adult was absolutely perfect. Truman’s kind and human gesture in awarding a diploma for the academic work Mack completed adds one final proof attesting to the special place it really is. Truman is a smart and quirky little school with a whole lot of heart, just like my Macko. Thank you, Truman State University, for giving my baby exactly what she wanted: a happy and healthy and hopeful place to flourish.

Purple bulldogs forever.

Mack sporting some of that TSU purple…

True Bulldog 8 true bulldog 7true bulldog 9

true bulldog 6

Mack is the first golfer on the left, next to her coach, Sam Lesseig. He was a sweet man, greeting Mack at freshman orientation with her Truman State golf bag. He and his wife fed the girls at their home and showered them with kindness and small gifts. Mack reported to me after a Christmas feast of lasagna, that he had given her a coloring book and crayons so that she could chill out a little while studying for finals. She was so tickled about that. Sadly, Sam died suddenly in the summer of 2013.