“When I received the letter my mom and I started to cry. I have been dreaming of going to this college since I was in 8th grade. This is my dream come true!”
"When I received the letter my mom and I started to cry. I have been dreaming of going to this college since I was in 8th grade,” said Megan McKenzie, recounting the moment she was awarded the Coast Guard Foundation’s Fallen Heroes Scholarship. “This is my dream come true!”
Megan, from Hudson, Fla., will be studying Baking and Pastry at The Art Institute of Tampa, and plans on opening a pastry cafe once she graduates. She wrote in her scholarship application: “My dream and goal for life is to be a pastry chef, and I will be a pastry chef!”
In 2015, the Coast Guard Foundation provided more than $400,000 in scholarships to children of enlisted members, and thanks to the Fallen Heroes Scholarship - a fund established to support the higher education needs of families whose loved one dies as a result of operational duty - the Foundation covers 100 percent of Megan’s education costs.
“My mom and I were worried how we were going to pay for college,” she recalls. “My mom was scared she was going to have to refinance the house.” But thanks to this scholarship it has brought “peace of mind” to Megan and her family.
In her scholarship application Megan described herself as a “high school graduate with autism… but not for sympathy,” she explained. “But to show my hard work, willpower and ‘can do’ attitude. My father taught me: never let my diagnosis define me.”
Megan is the daughter of DC2 Chester McKenzie who served at USCG Sector Hampton Roads in Portsmouth, Va. and died in November, 2006.
I am proud of my dad,” said Megan. “When my dad would go out to sea I remember being told he wasn’t home so he could save someone’s life.
Megan’s favorite memory of her dad was at Christmas each year when he would put layers of packing tape on the family’s gifts to drive them nuts. “My dad was a very smart man who was very much a joker,” she said. “And he also made the best and biggest pancakes when he was home.”
Another of Megan’s passions is volunteering. She is a volunteer of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and is active with the Ladies Auxiliary VFW. Other community work she engages in includes: helping at POW-MIA ceremonies, Homeless Veterans Stand Down events, flag retirements, as well as working with her local high school’s Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
“My mother has taught me that the best way to honor my father is to give back to the community and support our veterans,” she said.
“Without having to constantly worry about how I am going to fund my education, I can spend my time leading studies, joining clubs, and organizing team projects in the community.”