Meet Reilly Neely: The 2020 Dugan & Associates Scholarship Winner

Reilly Neely

Meet Reilly Neely, a recent graduate of Ringgold High School and this year’s winner of the Dugan & Associates Scholarship Contest. Reilly plans to attend California University of Pennsylvania in the fall to study Art Education. From all of us at Dugan & Associates, congratulations, Reilly!

To everyone else who submitted essays, thank you for sharing your stories with us! You can read Reilly’s winning essay below. This year’s prompt: Who in the Pittsburgh workforce has most inspired your aspirations beyond high school?

We all have someone in our lives who helps us grow into the person we are meant to be, who helps us to become the best version of ourselves. For me, that person was my high school art teacher. I walked into my first day of my Freshman year as a shy, anxious wreck of a person. I was having hardships at home and never really felt like I fit in. I was truly lost, I struggled deeply with mental illness and self-esteem issues, and at the same time, my father, who I was very close to, was in and out rehab, and suddenly out of my life. I felt as if I had never truly had a person that believed in me, that taught me my worth, and as a young girl growing up in a world that moves so very quickly, I was falling dramatically behind. That is, until I met Mrs. Theresa Campa.

It takes a special type of human being to not only be a great teacher and meet the requirements of such a difficult and demanding job but to also take students under your wing and do everything in your power to mentor them and help them grow. No matter what kind of day she was having, no matter what responsibilities she was taking on, if I needed a person to talk to she was there for me. Not only was she teaching me how to better myself as an artist, but she was also teaching me to be a good person and to fight for my own well-being.

One of my most vivid memories of her kindness was during an assembly my Junior year. Our school had brought in a group of mothers who had lost their children to addiction, and as the child of an addict, it only worsened my fear of losing my dad. Hearing their stories caused me to break down. I had a panic attack in front of the entire student body, and I was humiliated. She noticed me in the crowd of students and brought me into her empty classroom to calm down. She told me that no matter what happened with my dad, that I had the skills to get through it on my own, that I was strong enough to push past it. She was always reassuring me like that, and over time I really started to believe it. Since then, my self-confidence has awarded me section leader positions in my school’s marching band, the position of Art Club President, and 11 different art awards. All because she taught me how to believe in myself. 

All I have ever truly wanted to do with my life was help kids who grew up how I did. I wanted to make sure that no child ever felt as if they were unloved, or felt like they had no one in the world who would fight for them. I never understood how I could find a way to do that. I considered becoming a social worker, but I felt that a career in that field would ultimately be bad for my mental health. As all my friends around me started to make plans for their futures, I really struggled, that is until my senior year when I began to reflect on my time in that art room, and I slowly started to see that what my art teacher has done for me is exactly what I wanted to do for other people. As a teacher, I would be exposed to students from every background, and I would have the opportunity to mold their minds and help them grow, just as my wonderful teacher had done for me. I truly believe that her kindness is what saved my life and molded me into the strong, confident young woman that I have become, and if I could do that for just one student I would be lucky.

I will be studying art education at California University of Pennsylvania in hopes that I can be half the educator that Mrs. Campa is. Teachers like her are few and far between.

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