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    Following challenging pasts, Loudoun students beat the odds

    Kayla Walters hugs her middle school guidance counselor and mentor Amy Scott, before she took the podium at the Loudoun County “Beat the Odds” scholarship award at the Loudoun Courthouse May 23. - Photo/Ben Hancock
    After enduring frequent verbal and sexual abuse from her father, Kayla Walters, then only 12 years old, decided to take a stand. Not knowing whether anyone would believe her and risking angering her already violent father,
    Walters mustered her courage and sought help. It was difficult decision, but one that allowed her to make it through a dark point of her life.

    On Thursday, Kayla Walters was recognized for that courage, receiving the “Beat the Odds” scholarship award at the Loudoun Courthouse, where she was recognized alongside two other graduating seniors who won merit awards and two who received honorable mention awards.

    Retired Judge Thomas D. Horne gave the keynote address before the scholarships were handed out. He focused on the importance of role models in overcoming hardships.

    After sharing the story of a football coach who pushed him to succeed, Horne advised the recipients to remember the people who help them. “When you beat the odds, don’t forget that person.”

    His words resonated throughout the rest of the speeches as each of the merit award recipients told their stories, all of which featured at least one supportive figure.

    Walters was often overwhelmed by the constant onslaught of obstacles that stood in her way and feels that the support she received from her mother, Robin Walters, and her middle school counselor, Amy Scott, saved her life.

    Unfortunately, the justice system did not provide the same level of support to Kayla Walters. At first, they told her that her situation was not “bad enough” to merit her father losing visitation rights.

    “It was the worst feeling,” said Kayla Walters. “It’s like you’ve suffered and it’s been awful but [then they say] ‘it’s not bad enough, we can’t help you’ and here I was thinking I’d be safe and it’d be over and instead it was ‘sorry, maybe next time.’”

    Though Walters eventually succeeded in getting the court to take away her father’s visitation rights, it was not a simple path and her situation remains difficult. Her brother continues to visit with her father and she feels powerless to protect him, which she says is one of her biggest regrets.

    The lack of action by the courts frustrated Robin Walters, who fought to help her daughter throughout the whole process.

    “What’s really sad is how can the courts look at a father and say okay you will never see this child again and the other sibling goes not only on visitation, but also on overnight visitation,” said Robin Walters. “How do you do that without making that person go through some kind of counseling. He was ordered to have counseling, he didn’t go. What happened to him? Nothing.”

    Though she no longer has to see her father, Kayla Walters’ past experiences still haunt her memory. She acknowledges that the trauma she faced was severe enough that it will always be with her.

    Though the speech she gave upon accepting her award was delivered with incredible poise given its personal nature, she had to hold back tears as she asked, “How do you recover from the fact that your father, the man who you’re supposed to go to daddy-daughter dances with and learn how to fish with and just generally adore is actually the monster of your nightmares?”

    The other two merit award recipients also spoke about their past experiences.

    Yelda Sahin from Dominion High School battled with severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and bulimia all while her mother struggled to support the financial needs of the family.

    Ashlyn Rock, also from Dominion High School, discussed how her father would oppress and manipulate her and her family, threatening them with knives and guns, pushing them and barricading them into rooms in order to get what he wanted. She pointed out that such a difficult past cannot just be forgotten.

    “Though this ceremony and the graduation ceremony to come may seem to signal the end of those battles, I feel like I haven’t yet beaten the odds,” said Rock. “My own obstacle is not something that can truly be overcome. Yes, I have made steps out of my past and moved toward my future, but still I feel that the struggles I have encountered are not so easily resolved.”

    Sahin, Rock, and Kayla Walters all plan to attend George Mason University next year with the aid of their scholarships.

    In addition to the merit recipients, Jessica Tierney from Woodgrove High School and Juan Rivera from Park View High School received honorable mention scholarships.

    After all of the recipients were recognized, Ryan Harris, a past winner of a “Beat the Odds” merit award who is now a rising junior at James Madison University, was asked to come to the front and speak.

    Harris announced that, in addition to spreading the word about “Beat the Odds” on his campus, he raised $1,000, which he presented to the program. He was then given the first “Beat the Odds” Chapter Ambassador Award for his efforts.

    Robin Walters hopes that her daughter as well as the other award recipients attending George Mason next year will also act as ambassadors for the program in the future.

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