Oyster Bay Senior Wins 9/11 Scholarship

By Tom Gould Oyster Bay Patch

Oyster Bay High School’s Thomas Kelly recalls memories of his father, hopes for the future.

Thomas Kelly is currently a senior at Oyster Bay High School. He has a full schedule of Advanced Placement, Honors and College level courses. Thomas is a dedicated student and a two sport athlete competing as a member of the OBHS Varsity Football and Baseball teams.

Recently Thomas wrote an essay to enter is a bid for the Patrick O’Keefe Memorial Scholarship. His essay was chosen as the winning entry. O’Keefe was a New York City Fireman.

Here is Kelly’s winning essay:

I have very little memory of the day it happened, in fact I didn’t find out until the day after. As a six year old child I could not have possibly understood the severity of the national crisis, all I knew was that Daddy wasn’t coming home for dinner that night. In the days following September 11th 2001, I kept the hope that my father would come home, I told myself, “I will see Daddy walk past these cabinets again,” and “When Daddy comes home he’ll put his change on the counter like he always does.” Daddy never came home, and for the years following my family and I were able to cope and move forward, but the realization of the loss of my father always became magnified on the holidays when he wasn’t there to tell me that 4:30 in the morning is way too early to open Christmas presents.

As a student in high school I now realize what my father has done for me, and how his loss has shaped me as a person. I have grown in ways that I never thought I could have, I can now offer the support and love to those in situations similar to mine. No honor society president or Eagle Scout could console someone who has just lost a family member. No varsity captain could ever come close to filling the void left by a 40-year old father, husband and friend. I have learned to truly listen to my mother. I have learned to make her life easier. Most importantly I have learned to make her happier. I now find my eldest brother and I teaching our younger siblings to ride bikes, play baseball and the importance of respect.

I cannot imagine where I would be if my father was still here to teach me how to shave and work out. I do know now that I am living a perfect life in the most imperfect way. My dad may not be here to come and put his change on the counter or to walk past our cabinets, but he is always with me. As I place my change on the counter and confidently walk past the cabinets, I think to myself “The past cannot be changed, but the future is mine.”

Beginning in my junior year I began to ponder my future much more closely with all the career choices that lay before me: a Repo broker like my father? An athletic trainer? Or even a police officer. Although I wasn’t certain what I wanted to do, I knew myself, and that I wouldn’t be happy unless I chose to do something that would have a positive impact on others as well as myself. At this time I was interested in physical therapy but never truly understood the complexity of the field until I was unexpectedly thrust into it. In late January 2012, I tore my meniscus during my pitching lesson. It required surgery and a three month recovery period which would include physical therapy twice a week. During my three month rehabilitation I learned that physical therapists treat patients of all ages and various injuries. I felt fortunate in my experience that I saw they practice with humility and they help lift and inspire spirits. Although I was determined to work my way back so that I could play the 2nd half of my baseball season, I don’t think I could have done it without my PT’s professional help but also his belief in me. I experienced firsthand the positive impact, both physically and mentally my PT had on me. Then I knew, I had found my future.

As my senior year college search has winded down, I have found the perfect place to continue my learning and work toward my future. Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania will be my home for the next four years where I will be studying to become a physical therapist.

Since 9/11, my mother, like all other victims’ next of kin, has worried how my four siblings and I will be able to attend college after the passing of our father. My mother, like many others, took on the role of sole provider and care giver for us. She is both mother and father to us. I knew that I had to do anything and everything in my power to help her provide a future for all of us. A grant from the O’Keefe Foundation would put a huge smile on my mother’s face, and in no way would go to waste. I believe that with my drive and work ethic, and the genuine love I have for what I want to do, I can truly achieve what men like Patrick O’Keefe and my Father would have been proud to be a part of.

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