Back to Life Lessons

2013 Grand Prize – Essay

Shane LaBarge

Scholarship Amount: $15,000

Hometown: McKees Rock, PA - School: California University of Pennsylvania

My father was a baby-boomer who loved music. He saw Peter Frampton in concert. When he was my age he had a prodigious record collection, and a stereo that could do it justice. He married a woman who enjoyed it as much as he did, and he had two sons. He would introduce his sons to all the great artists of the ’60s and ’70s, and they would be thankful for it. He built a home, and in this home he always had a song playing. Until October 6th, 2011.
The day the music stopped.

My father died suddenly from undiagnosed heart disease on that day. I was one month into my first semester of college. I remember when I got home the house was quiet; it unnerved me. I didn’t know that in the coming months the quiet would be punctuated by the calls of mortgage lenders, credit agencies and utility companies.

We were the type of family that never expected anything like this could happen to us. We lived modestly, but we still managed to save up our money to go to the beach every couple of years. Going into college, my father helped cover my living expenses and textbooks. It was an arrangement that is common in America today. What happened after his death is also—unfortunately—all too common.

My father did not have life insurance. You never expect the music to stop; especially when you’ve been listening to it for so long. But the music did stop. We lost his income, and suddenly we went from a family living within its means to having to face imminent eviction, power shutdowns, and withdrawals from college. This is the price you pay when you don’t prepare for the unthinkable.

My mother is disabled and can’t earn supplemental income to support the family; that responsibility has since fallen on to me. Through cost-cutting and working two jobs I have managed to stay in college. Having amenities is a thing of the past, and each semester I scramble to afford books required for my classes. We are just barely scratching by on a month-to-month basis. How is my fourteen-year old brother going to attend college? How will we afford a car when my mother’s finally quits? These are the things that occupy my mind. These are the things that would be taken care of if my father had adequate life insurance.

When we were cutting costs my mother’s policy was never on the table. Her insurance is not a cost to us; it is a necessity. I feel a measure of safety today knowing that if the unthinkable should happen again that my brother and I will be taken care of.

I have redoubled my efforts academically to try and secure a future for those that I love. Graduating college is the top priority for me, and I will succeed. I am determined to hear the music play for my family once more.

You can help students like Shane make their dream of a college education come true by donating to the nonprofit Life Lessons Scholarship fund. Donate here.

2013 Top Recipients