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Teen Learns Courage From Sick Best Friend

Rachel Lee is the 2017 recipient for the Character Foundation of North Alabama scholarship sponsored by Secure Destruction Service.

Rachel Lee learned about courage the hard way, the head-first, pull-you-into-the-deep-end way that often proves to be the best—albeit unpleasant—teacher. Rachel’s best friend, Taylor, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was a freshmen at Grissom High School. For the next two years, Rachel watched as Taylor drove to Birmingham on Thursday mornings and came back to Huntsville and checked into school so she could still be there for softball practice.

It took a lot of determination for the teenager to go through cancer treatments with a positive attitude, but it eventually all paid off. By her junior year of high school, Taylor was cancer-free. While a clean bill of health certainly changed Taylor’s life, it was Rachel who learned about courage. In an essay for a scholarship, Rachel said Taylor never complained about being sick or weak.

“Being a teammate of Taylor’s, I had the chance to witness the drive she maintained on the softball field,” Rachel wrote. “Taylor not only pushed herself through every single workout and practice that we had, but she would also encourage others to push themselves harder too.”

Throughout the two years of her illness, Taylor’s diagnoses turned into a butterfly effect for the windowless halls of Grissom High School. Her teammates noticed Taylor’s determination. They learned how to fight for things that mattered.

“Even if you’re going through a hard time, if you keep a positive mindset and don’t give up and push through, then you can get through it—even if the statistics don’t think so,” Rachel said. 

Rachel’s scholarship-winning essay puts the spotlight on Taylor, but it’s not to be overlooked that Rachel is courageous as well. She went on to lead and encourage the school softball team as they went through five head coaches. She pushed the team to work harder in the face of adversity, injuries or fired coaches.

Inspiring others to work harder is the peer pressure you want to see in schools. That’s what earned Rachel the $1,500 scholarship from the Character Foundation of North Alabama.

“This year, being the leader to other people, it took some courage to get through,” Rachel said. “I had to step up and teach the girls how to persevere…and I think Taylor helped show me some of those qualities.”

So, while Rachel is up for a challenge over the next few years at Auburn University, she’s already had a good bit of practice overcoming hard times. She will major in nursing, a passion she developed when Taylor told her how the nurses helped get her through all the chemotherapy, all the appointments and all the long hospital days.

“I think there are a lot of things that you’ll be faced with that you haven’t seen throughout your grade school … things that you’ll have to deal with head on,” Rachel said. “I think your character will help you decide the right choice.”

The Character Foundation of North Alabama works to encourage businesses as well as individuals to act with utmost character excellence. What started as a way to encourage students to resolve conflict before it turns to violence has since evolved into a scholarship and leadership program.

Students were required to write an essay on one of the given topics—courage, fairness, generosity and perseverance—before the scholarship recipient was chosen. Rachel’s essay on courage was chosen from 175 entries.

The Community Journal is dedicated to sharing good news in the community. We believe that when we focus on good, more good happens.

And we congratulate Rachel Lee, this year’s Character of North Alabama scholarship recipient.

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