McKinney North High School graduating senior Angie Ng’s incredible strength and drive to succeed in the face of tragedy has earned her a prestigious Bill Gates Millennium scholarship.

The program helps minority students who need financial assistance and display great academic and leadership achievements. About 25,000 students nationwide applied, and just 1,000 were named Gates Scholars.

The award will pay for her undergraduate studies at Baylor University, in addition to a master’s or doctoral degree.

“It’s such a huge blessing,” said Angie, 18. “This sets up the whole rest of my schooling career.”

An outsider would never guess that at just 15 years old, she lost both of her parents within a span of just a few months: her mother to a car accident, and then her father to cancer. She arrives at McKinney North High School daily wearing an infectious smile.
“I have a bright future ahead of me and I know that’s what my parents would want,” Angie said. “I want to make them proud.”

Angie ranks within the top six percent of her graduating class. She has participated in the choir, drill team, student council, National Honor Society, Key Club and earned the highest number of volunteer hours of any student in her junior class.

For her application, Angie took on the difficult task of writing about her parents. McKinney Education Fund college advisor Tammi Saffell told her to write down the facts of her life, and that others could learn from her story.

“There are so many people that will focus on things that are bad in their life or things that are hard and use it as a crutch, and this girl did not do that,” Saffell said. “You don’t get to choose what happens to you in life, but you do have the choice of what you’re going to do about it.”

Angie was born in Hong Kong, and spoke Cantonese Chinese as her first language. After her family moved to Texas, her father Benjamin worked as a chef in Chinese restaurants and her mother Debbie worked as a school cafeteria manager.

Though her parents did not attend college, they stressed the importance of academics. When she was in middle school, her father took her on a trip to see Duke University in North Carolina.

“He told me that hard work pays off in the end and you need to make sure you try your best and fulfill your fullest potential in life,” Angie said.

Everything changed her freshman year of high school. Her father was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. She had nightmares about the day the phone call would come at school with the news that he had died.

Instead, on March 25, 2009, her mother never arrived at school to pick her up. Her father came instead, and they waited at home for her mother. Then a chaplain and police officer arrived to tell the family that her mother had died in a car accident.

Angie pushed on, attending school the next day. She took over the responsibilities of caring for her father. She prepared meals and handled the legal matters related to preparing for his death.

“My mother instilled in me the importance of perseverance,” she wrote in one essay. “I knew she wanted me to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, so I continued attending school, I kept moving forward. Because of my mother’s guidance, I traded my despondency for determination, and I learned to live each day with strength and courage.”

When Angie’s father passed away on July 29, 2009, she wanted to stay in McKinney. The parents of her classmate and friend Mackenzie Schulien stepped forward to take guardianship. Angie first met Jim and Wendy Schulien when she decided to become baptized at Our Savior Lutheran Church, and they agreed to serve as godparents.

“She is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met in my entire life,” said Wendy Schulien. “She looks for the good in people. She has a wonderful work ethic—almost to the point that we have to tell her to relax and stop studying so much.”

The teachers and staff at McKinney North have also served as a support system. Angie speaks with student council advisor Casie Homer almost daily.

“We are the village for Angie,” Homer said. “I feel like we’ve all raised her.”

Angie’s English teacher, Scott Henry, recalls that when students created posters introducing themselves he asked if there was anything she didn’t participate in at the school. Her classmates started laughing and said she was involved in everything.

“I couldn’t imagine a student having to overcome more—and also reaching as high,” Henry said. “Despite the obstacles and the things she’s faced she’s still generous and kind. She really is a picture of charity.”

Angie has focused a lot of her energy on community service. She has frequently visited seniors at several nursing homes, volunteered at Relay for Life events and delivered food as part of Meals on Wheels.

She is thankful to the educators at McKinney North who have offered help beyond just academics.

“I knew my school was there to back me up and support me,” she said. “At McKinney North, we have some of the most amazing teachers, not just because they’re great teachers but because they do care for us as individuals.”

Now she also copes with her loss by writing letters to her parents. She ties them to balloons and then releases them. She writes a blog about her memories of her parents and her emotions. She also relies on her faith and inspirational quotes to continue her healing.
“Sometimes, if I close my eyes, and cup my fingers to my palm, I can realistically imagine and recall the distinct feelings of my parents’ hands in mine,” she wrote in one poetic entry.

Angie wants to go into a career where she can help other young people deal with their grief or other obstacles. She may become a child life specialist or psychologist.

“I have a passion for bettering peoples’ lives,” she said. “There are so many people in this world who need someone to lend a hand and help them. I want to be that person that says, ‘I understand and I want to help you and we’ll go through this together.’”

 

Written by Katherine Leal Unmuth. This story is the seventh in a series of profiles on McKinney ISD graduates making a difference at home and around the world. For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, McKinney ISD communications specialist.