Seven years ago, Jasmine Turner was a senior in high school trying to decide what her future held. A self-described, small-town girl from Tippo, Mississippi, Turner was unsure whether she wanted to stay close to home or go a bit further and attend Ole Miss. With dreams of attending pharmacy school, she chose the latter. But only one issue remained… paying for tuition.
After reading about different scholarship opportunities, Turner applied for the “Ole Miss First” scholarship and was asked to write an essay in an effort to receive the funds. Turner chose to write about her life in her small town as the prom queen, homecoming queen, valedictorian and how she chose to be active in her school and her community.
Her personality shined through the essay, and it caught the attention of Ole Miss alumnus and donor Bill Cossar. Cossar was told about the “Ole Miss First” scholarship by longtime friend Robert Khayat and requested a meeting with the principal of Charleston High School to meet prospective students. After he read Turner’s essay, the next step was to get to know the person who wrote it.
“I remember when she walked in and said, ‘I know I’m not in trouble because all I do is go to school and go to church,’” Cossar said.
After the two met and discussed Turner’s future plans, Cossar recommended her for a $20,000 scholarship to help her pursue her pharmacy school dreams. Cossar found himself in a position to assist Turner and didn’t want to see her potential go to waste.
“She had two choices: stay close to home and give up her dream or attend Ole Miss and go to pharmacy school, and that’s what I told her. She deserved the chance to go to Ole Miss,” Cossar said. “Here’s a person who’s trying to do better, and she had the grades to show for it. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet someone like her, and it couldn’t have turned out any better.”
Now seven years later, Turner has graduated from the Ole Miss School of Pharmacy and has a job lined up with Walgreens in Brandon, Mississippi. The scholarship got her started, but the relationship between herself and Cossar is really what helped Turner through her time at Ole Miss.
“He was a mentor; I didn’t feel like it was a scholarship. It felt like I had friends behind me and supporting me,” Turner said. “He called me almost every month to check up on me. I look at him as a father figure. I don’t have a father in my life, and he is someone I can look up to and count on. He even says, ‘I made a good investment.’”
Turner was faced with a dilemma early on in her time at Ole Miss as she didn’t have a way to get around or get back home. She was able to catch a ride from time to time, but Cossar recognized that she needed her own transportation.
“Jasmine had no way to get to school, so I took her to Grenada and bought her a car and let her make the payments to me,” Cossar said. “I wanted to teach her how to make payments, and she got a job in order to do so. After a few months, I figured I taught her what she needed to know, and I tore up our note and gave her the title to the car.”
While working to pay the car off, Turner began her job, which she kept throughout her time in Oxford. Balancing her work and her education was enough to show Cossar her dedication and work ethic, which led to the car being placed in her name and paid off completely.
“When he told me that it was my car, I cried. I didn’t know what to say, and I don’t even think ‘thank you’ came out of my mouth immediately because I couldn’t stop crying. That feeling is indescribable,” Turner said.
It didn’t take long for Turner to use the opportunity she was given to help others. An employee at the university call center, she was able to talk to future Ole Miss students in search of financial aid to help them find opportunities to allow them to attend school and pursue their own dreams, just as she did. Turner recently contributed to the “Ole Miss Fund” but has her eyes on a much higher form of aid.
“My experience put it in my heart to give back, even though it was just $100, that was $100 that someone didn’t have, and it can help their scholarships,” Turner said. “Eventually, after I get situated, my goal is to start a scholarship similar to Mr. Cossar’s and help someone like me who didn’t have a lot of financial support but is a very studious person.”
When Turner attended the “White Coat Ceremony” for the pharmacy school, Cossar was right by her side just as any proud parent would be. While Turner isn’t the first student he has helped and won’t be the last, Cossar will always hold a special place in his heart for the small town girl from Tallahatchie County.
“She has become part of my family,” Cossar said. “I’m almost 80 years old, and I’ve done a lot of things, but one of the things I’m most proud of is helping someone like Jasmine. To see how it ended up really is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and she is the light.”
Individuals and organizations interested in supporting academic scholarships at the University of Mississippi can contact Sandra Guest, vice president of the UM Foundation, at 662-915-5208 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Gifts also can be made by mailing a check to the UM Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655 with the purpose noted in the memo line, or by visiting https://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift/.
By Steven Gagliano, HottyToddy.com