REACH - Mariah Smith Pictures
Mariah and her Rotary mentor, Roxann Kerr Lindsey
Senior Picture
National Student Exchange to University of Hawaii at Manoa
REACH - Mariah Testimonial

Mariah (Bishop Ward class of 2014)

My name is Mariah. I am a graduate of Bishop Ward High School (2014) and a very grateful Leawood Rotary REACH program scholarship recipient. I am due to start my fourth and (fingers crossed) final year at Fort Hays State University in just a few weeks. I hope to have earned a Bachelor’s degree in Arts of Communications with an emphasis in Advertising and Public Relations by May of 2018. I am so stunned to put that into writing, and I guess that’s because it doesn’t seem real that I will actually be a college graduate in less than a year! It has been quite a journey, but I know I would not be in this position today if it weren’t for the help of the Leawood Rotary and the REACH program in both high school and college.
I remember getting a phone call the summer before my junior year at Bishop Ward about being invited to participate in the REACH program. I hadn’t heard much about it before, but I knew it had something to do with getting on track for college and successes after high school. As a then sixteen-year-old, I thought it was way too soon to be making those decisions already, but I went to the introductory picnic anyway, and quickly found out how wrong I was.
I met my mentor, Roxann, and we talked a little bit about my goals and how she, my parents, and I would work together to get me there. As junior year got rolling, I made sure to attend the REACH meetings, some during our homeroom or lunch hours, but many taking place before school. Despite them being early in the morning or during my “social” hours of school, I found myself excited for them each month. We worked on résumés, took a few ACT’s, narrowed down some college major choices, and started looking at potential schools and financial options.
Soon junior year became senior year. I couldn’t believe how fast time flew by. I was definitely grateful that Roxann, my parents and I had started “college talk” when we did with REACH, because I had no idea how we would have gotten to that point if we hadn’t. Looking at schools became applying to schools, and applying for scholarships, and FAFSA, and picking a major, and getting accepted to schools, and becoming some sort of adult making really huge strides!
The transition from the high school to college setting was surprisingly smooth. I know I have Roxann and REACH mentors to thank for that. They took the intimidation out of the entire process and helped me tackle it all one step at a time. One day I looked around and it was all said and done- so easy and painless. Then, in what feels like a blur, I graduated, picked FHSU, enrolled as a psychology student and built a schedule, and packed all my stuff to move to Hays, Kansas for my freshman year of college. It was a small town and a small dorm, but it was mine and I was so happy and proud. I made a lot of friends and even more memories to last a lifetime.
Sophomore year, I started questioning myself and my decisions. Psychology didn’t seem like it was going to take me where I wanted to go, so I started looking into other majors and programs. I was working on-campus for the College of Business, and starting thinking that maybe I’d like marketing. Turns out- nope, that wasn’t for me. But then Communications was suggested to me, more specifically, the Advertising program. That sounded like just what I needed! I finally changed my major, and although it kicked me back a little bit in my degree, I was still so thrilled about my new found sense of passion and place in the world! I am fascinated by advertising and the world of social networking sites, and I have dreams of having a hand in where those two paths come together. I’m not sure what that looks like yet, but I am excited about where I am headed.
I also started getting bored and homesick that year, wondering if Hays was still the right place for me, or if maybe I could transfer somewhere closer to Kansas City, so I could spend more time at home. Somewhere in my research I stumbled upon study abroad and exchange programs offered through my school. I found an exchange program called National Student Exchange (NSE). I was originally looking at exchanging to a school closer to home, but saw that University of Hawai’i at Mānoa on Oahu was listed as an available option. It had always been my dream to live in Hawai’i and, much sooner than I had anticipated, it felt like that dream could become a reality. I applied. I was told it was a long shot, but I went ahead anyway. In March of that year, I got a phone call informing me that I was chosen! ME! All over again, I felt like I was working through an unending stack of things to take care of and paperwork to fill out, but got through it much like I did with my college preparations- one step at a time. Almost exactly a year ago, I stepped onto a plane to move what felt like worlds away all by myself.
I spent the last school year in Honolulu as a Rainbow Warrior at UH. I took classes and worked toward my degree, of course, but this past year was so much more than that. I became friends with people from all ends of the world. I went to the beach. I hiked mountains and volcanoes. I had a lot of garlic shrimp and shave ice. I swam with sharks! I learned about ancient and modern day Hawai’ian history and milestones. I absorbed a whole new culture and lifestyle. But most importantly, I found myself. I had this new appreciation for life, and I realized that I can and should have the time of my life during my journey as well.
I’m all settled back in Kansas, changed for the better, I’d say. I have grown so much and surprised myself infinitely along the way. I have had REACH with me with every step. I am so grateful for the continued support of the Leawood Rotary. I know I would not have had the experiences and opportunities that I have without them. I wish that every student had the opportunity to work with amazing mentors like I had in high school so they could set up their own roads to success.
Not only have they set me up to succeed in the best ways throughout high school, but they are also helping my financial burden tremendously with the scholarship every semester, making all of my dreams and goals so much more achievable. College can be a stressful time, and with their support, that is one big worry lifted off of my shoulders. So far, I have put my scholarship towards room and board, books, school supplies, student fees, meal plans, and plane fare to and from the Aloha State. I hope that my hard work will become successes in the future so I can prove that having programs like REACH is an invaluable resource to students, and I hope, above all, that I can make the Leawood Rotary proud.
Mahalo nui loa (thank you very much) to all that the members of the Leawood Rotary for all they do for myself and other students across the Kansas City area. They are making such an impact in so many lives, and I cannot express the appreciation that I have for these remarkable men and women.