A Priceless Gift

This speech was given by Elia Wright ’10 at the HMMS fall reception on Friday, October 2, 2009.  Elia is an HMMS Scholar, and is also the recipient of the James H. and Maxine E. Sellers Endowed Scholarship.

Good evening everyone. I am pleased to be here at this event with all of you. My name is Elia Wright, and I am a senior here at Muhlenberg College. I am a biochemistry major currently in the process of applying for graduate school to obtain a Ph.D. in biological chemistry. I honestly cannot believe that I am a senior; I am still in denial, so please bear with me if I get a little emotional. It truly has been a great three years, and this final year has definitely gotten off to a great start.

I would like to give you a bit more background about myself, so I will share some of my favorite activities and clubs that I participate in on campus. I am treasurer for the Black Students Association, which raises awareness of the African American presence on Muhlenberg’s campus through various events such as our “BSA shout-outs” (where students and faculty discuss social issues posed by our group and how we can make a difference) and our annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration. I am also one of the original members of Muhlenberg’s Gospel Choir, Rejoice, which some of you may have seen perform at one time or another. Additionally, I am a tutor, a Principles of Biology III lab assistant and one of the co-presidents of the Soul Sound Steppers. Needless to say, I am fairly involved on campus, and part of the reason why I am so involved is that I want to get as much out of my college experience as possible.

"I truly believe that the education I have received at Muhlenberg will be the key to my success in the future. There is no possible way to put a price on that."

Being at Muhlenberg has afforded me a lot of opportunities for which I am truly grateful. One of those opportunities was the chance to go to the University of Michigan and participate in their Chemistry Research Education for Undergraduates program. The University of Michigan is a great school, and the competition is incredibly fierce to get into their REU programs. Fortunately, a Muhlenberg alumni couple forged a great relationship between Muhlenberg and the University of Michigan, and now U of M reserves at least one slot for a Muhlenberg student every summer in their Chemistry REU program. I’d like to recognize that alumni couple, Robert ’62 and Carolyn (Meder) Buzzard ’61, who are here this evening.


Carolyn '61 and Bob Buzzard '62

I applied for the REU through our Chemistry department and was approved as the representative for Muhlenberg. Of course, I still had to do the formal application for U of M, but I already knew that I was going to be accepted into the program before I even did the application! I have never heard of another school having a connection like that, especially a small school like Muhlenberg. I truly feel that I would not have been granted the opportunity to participate in such a prestigious summer research program if I did not attend Muhlenberg.

While I was at the University of Michigan, I worked in Dr. Katrin Karbstein’s lab with a third-year chemical biology graduate student looking for possible protein interactions between enzymes, and I began a project that would provide further information regarding the functions of two proteins, Rok1 and Rrp5. The time I spent away from the lab was just as valuable as the many hours I spent in lab. A few of the chemistry REU students decided to call our group Organic Crew, and we had t-shirts made that said “Michigan Organic Crew” on the front, and the synthesis of an organic compound with the words “Eat, Sleep, Synthesize and Party” on the back. Thankfully, I have many memories like this from my summer experience in Michigan.

Muhlenberg truly is a great college, and it has a lot to offer. In return, to attend this school full time, we must pay almost $37, 000 per year for tuition alone. Add in room and board, and the grand total is approximately $45,000 per year! I’m sure there are some people who can afford to pay that out of pocket every year, but I, for one, am not one of them. In fact, if it weren’t for the financial aid awarded to me – which I received based on my financial need and academic achievement – I would not be standing in front of you tonight. My parents were incredibly supportive of me attending such a great school, but they were concerned about how they were going to pay for my education. My family is nowhere near rich. We have faced many financial hardships. In fact, during my Muhlenberg career, my mother was unemployed twice.

Her second period of unemployment was this past summer, which was definitely rough financially. My parents filed for an extension on their taxes because they needed more time; therefore, I couldn’t finalize my FAFSA or CSS Profile until mid-July. Until my financial aid package was finalized, I was sweating bullets. I feared that my parents and I would have to apply for a loan, and with my mother being unemployed and my father on disability after having surgery on his wrist, our chances of getting a loan were slim to none. The aid provided by donors in the Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Society is a large part of the reason why the total amount of money my parents and I have to pay out of pocket this year is less than $1,500. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I logged on to the new online financial aid system (which is such a great convenience, by the way), and saw how much financial aid I was being offered. I was able to truly enjoy the rest of my summer knowing that everything was taken care of and I could complete my degree.

I am very grateful to be able to attend this institution, and I know that I would not be here if I was not offered a generous financial aid package all four years. I cannot stress enough how imperative it was for me to attend a school that provided me with a lot of financial aid. That aid was possible because of people like you who give back each year. I truly believe that the education I have received at Muhlenberg will be the key to my success in the future. There is no possible way to put a price on that. Thank you so much, and I hope you all enjoy the rest of the evening.

For more information on the HMMS Scholars Program, contact the Development Office at 484-664-3247 or talentscampaign@muhlenberg.edu