Carolina-bound on a shoestring

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 3, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
KANNAPOLIS — Kelsie Gibson will graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel HIll debt-free.
The recent A.L. Brown graduate and her mother, Alisa Gibson, spent the entire school year scouring websites and books for scholarships. After more than 40 applications, Kelsie landed nine scholarships worth $20,000.
That’s not a full ride, but Kelsie will also be part of UNC’s Covenant Scholars program, which provides tuition assistance to students from low-income families.
Kelsie was accepted to all seven colleges that she applied to, including Harvard and High Point universities, but she picked Carolina for both financial and personal reasons.
Although High Point was one of Kelsie’s top choices, she said the price tag at the private institution would make it impossible for her to graduate without amassing substantial debt.
During a spring break trip to Carolina, she found out about Covenant Scholars and the school’s chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ and got hooked.
“The doors just opened up and said ‘come to Chapel Hill,’ ” Kelsie said.
Kelsie also used her experience from studying abroad in Cambridge, England, as a springboard for her decision. She was one of five students in the United States to receive a full scholarship from the National Society of High School Scholars for the trip.
“Being in a different country for three weeks kind of gave me an idea of what kind of college I wanted to look for,” Gibson said. “I met people from China and Switzerland, so I wanted to find a college with some diversity and I think Chapel Hill has that.”
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Kelsie landed nine scholarships by not only keeping up her grades, but also being an active leader at A.L. Brown.
She served as student body president and chaplain of the National Honor Society during both her junior and senior years. She has also been a junior marshal, Junior Rotarian, secretary of Beta Club as well as a member of the principal’s advisory committee, Latin Club and prom committee.
This year she also had the opportunity to lead the lady Wonders’ golf team.
“It’s kind of a funny story, we had an interest meeting and about 12 people showed up, then only about three people came to practice,” she said. “When school started the coach came up to me and said congratulations Kelsie you are the golf team — I was the only one left.”
Kelsie said that left her wondering if she should quit or be a one-member team that couldn’t compete.
She decided to stick with it and ended up finding two freshmen girls to join the team, so the coach promoted her to captain.
“I’m glad I did it because its something I’m passionate about,” she said. “I got to help those girl be up and coming golfers.”
Although Kelsie didn’t win any accolades for her golfing skills, she did receive an $8,000 scholarship from the Women’s Western Golf Foundation.
She said while she and her mother were hunting for scholarships, they Googled literally everything they could think of, including brown hair and golf.
Kelsie said she was most honored to receive the first Frances Black Holland Scholarship, which is awarded through the Festival of Arts.
She’s taken part in the Festival of Arts for the past two years, singing and doing her ventriloquist act with her doll, Andie.
Kelsie has been performing as a ventriloquist since the age of five. She currently puts on shows at her church, Concord First Assembly, and at area nursing homes.
“It’s been really rewarding to be able to let little kids experience ventriloquism for the first time and see the amazement and glow in their eyes,” she said.
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But Alisa said things haven’t come easy for her daughter.
“She’s really pushed herself to excel,” she said.
After 9/11 Alisa got laid off from job with United Airlines and the mother-daughter duo relocated from Virginia to Alisa’s hometown of Kannapolis.
They planned to live in a mill home across the street from Alisa’s grandmother, but she became ill and the pair moved in with her instead.
Alisa and Kelsie were the primary caregivers of her until she died during Kelsie’s sophomore year of high school.
“I don’t think most people are as close to their great-grandmother as I was,” Kelsie said. “I admired and looked up to her because she was a really kind-hearted woman.”
Although Kelsie enjoyed the time she spent with her grandmother, she said the constant care she required took a toll.
As a single mother, Alisa said she’s been working every job she can get her hands on to make ends meet, including working part time for the U.S. Census Bureau and part time as a tutor at Sylvan Learning Center.
“We haven’t been a stranger to coming home to a dark house,” she said.
But Kelsie said she never let anything keep her down. Instead, she pushes forward.
“My grandma, great-grandmother and even my mom weren’t given the opportunities that I have been given,”she said. “I’m motivated to strive for better things for myself.
“I’ve never really gone with the crowd, I have strong morals and values with God and that motivate me to be better, to strive for a better life.”
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When Kelsie arrives at Chapel Hill this fall, she plans to major in journalism and minor in political science.
She’s already gotten her feet wet by serving as the editor of A.L. Brown’s yearbook. And she loves writing anything from song lyrics to articles.
“I just want to be able to share people’s stories,” she said.
Alisa said it will be hard to see her only daughter go away to college, but she’s proud of all the accomplishments she achieved so far.
“It’s bittersweet, that’s what we keep saying,” she said. “We’re not best friends because I’m still the mom and she’s still the daughter, but we enjoy each other’s company.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.