Destin touches the lives of those around her, and is a positive presence that engages with warmth and compassion. During the summer of 2017 Destin Thomas was a soon-to-be 23-year-old senior at Kennesaw State University. Destin was diagnosed with lupus during her first year in college, which led her to apply for a L.I.F.E. Scholarship. Although she was not offered an award at that time, Destin did not give up. Despite her frustrations, she demonstrated the remarkable fortitude to persevere. Accordingly, Destin made academic, physical, and personal gains that inspired others who witnessed her growth. Even through her days of darkness from lupus - the wolf within – Destin’s positive presence became a magnet of hope for other young adults faced with adversity.
The L.I.F.E. Scholarship Committee applauds applicants that show persistence by re-applying. Destin Thomas was one of our students that reapplied not just once, but twice. For three consecutive years Destin’s application showed improvement. However, it was not just the improvement that caught the eyes of our L.I.F.E. scholarship committee. Destin’s pure determination to put her best foot forward each year, for 3 consecutive years, showed the committee her potential to lead others in the same manner. After our thorough review of all application materials, we were markedly impressed. Destin gave the committee a wonderful snippet of how she constantly applied herself to overcome adversity. Her grades consistently improved and her essays were thoughtful and unique. Each year Destin inspired her recommenders.
The first year of college is a crucial time in any young adult’s life. Although it is a time to broaden foundations of knowledge and understanding, for many students it also delivers independence, self-discovery, and an awareness of cultural differences and identity. Learning that you have a chronic, potentially life-threatening, autoimmune disease is life-changing. It can threaten who you are—how you seek to define yourself.
Lupus is a game changer for many people, and Destin was no exception. At first, she struggled to accept the limitations it imposed. Between flares and exhaustion, it was emotionally taxing to adjust to. Negativity clouded her life, as it can for others with this disease. She had to learn to be patient with herself and be honest about her condition to herself and others.
Destin explained how the testimonies of others living with lupus and attending college changed her outlook. The support of her Christian church gave her strength and hope to continue on. Destin displays the type of a character that the L.I.F.E. team seeks. Through her own hardship, this beautiful young lady has developed the ability to help and encourage others. She has not allowed lupus to make her bitter and callous, but instead has responded by extending kindness and empathy to others. Her Resident Director offered a glowing recommendation after personally witnessing her relationships with fellow students in the dorm. In the words of the director, “Destin has brought light to my RA team.” Isn’t it ironic when people who are “allergic” to light shine brightest among their peers? In 2016, Destin wrote “the bright side of this is [to] always use [her] story to let others know they can get through a less than perfect college experience.”
In one short year, Destin came to peace with her diagnosis, allowing her turn outward and become more perceptive of others’ suffering. The RA Director witnessed her compassionate and inspiring nature, stating that “many of her peers turn to her for advice and look to her performance to mirror as their own”, and “[she doesn’t] make excuses or use SLE as a crutch, but instead she has let it silently be part of her identity and she strives forward.”
Destin inspires others without them even knowing she has lupus, and when they do discover this fact, she becomes even more inspirational. The L.I.F.E. Team would like to thank Destin Thomas, not just for persisting to apply for this scholarship, but for her choice to fight the good fight: for being the encouragement when people most desperately need it, and for being the kind soul that motivates others to make the best of all situations. For this, we are proud to announce Destin Thomas as a well deserving 2017 sponsored L.I.F.E. Scholarship Winner. Her story is one that will continue to be told year after year.
“Destin, like our other courageous winners, is a positive role model for future students with lupus. And she epitomizes the heart and soul of this organization.” –Jodi Norton, President and Co-Founder of L.I.F.E.
We hope Destin’s journey with lupus will encourage our previous L.I.F.E. Scholarship finalists to re-apply, especially if they are growing stronger and can show through example how the impact of the “cruel mystery” of lupus has changed their trajectory in life for the better.
Written by: Jodi Norton, President of L.I.F.E.
Caleb Kim, Hospice Volunteer