Summer 2016 - Articles

A Determined Heart

A Determined Heart; Justice League drawn as doctors and nurses

The path to a college education requires tenacity, but there’s no denying that some paths are rockier than others.

Junior nursing student Jeremy Ellis experienced a challenging home environment that had him bouncing between parents and states. Finally, at age 11, he ran away to live with his aunt. During his childhood, he had open-heart surgery, and during his senior year of high school, he had to return to the hospital because of recurring heart complications.

“The care I experienced with my nurses was key; I just saw nurses as superheroes,” he says. His experience in the hospital sparked an interest in nursing, but he knew a college education was out of his reach financially. No one in his family had ever been to college, and no one thought he could handle the rigorous curriculum of nursing school.

But they didn’t count on Ellis’ determination. Resolving not to limit himself, he visualized his path and set out to get the education he wanted. He gained acceptance to Auburn’s School of Nursing and, last July, became a recipient of the Bertha L. Watkins Endowed Scholarship. The scholarship was created by Bertha’s sons, the late William C. “Wick” ’56, and Larry ’57, to honor their hard-working mother. To ensure other students will continue to have access to a college education, Wick Watkins also worked with Auburn University’s Office of Gift Planning to enhance funding for the scholarship through his estate plans.

Today, Ellis is on track to graduate from Auburn’s School of Nursing in 2017 and then go on to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).

Jeremy Ellis drawn in Superman style;

“I honestly didn’t think I would make it past my first semester,” says Ellis, who earned a 4.0 his freshman year.  “Nursing is not easy, but you figure out what kind of work you have to put in and you do it. It’s like that for anything.”

Ellis’ scholarship eases the stress of paying for nursing school, so he can dedicate his time and energy to his studies.

“I am grateful every day for the opportunity to be here,” he says. “Giving really does make a difference in the life of a student. This has helped me, and I want to help someone else.

“I will never forget who gave me this opportunity. As soon as I get my first nurse anesthetist check, I’m going to start giving back to Auburn.”

For more information about how your estate plans can help a student like Jeremy Ellis, please contact the Office of Gift Planning at (334) 844-7375, or visit