As a high school student in 2014 at James Madison High School in Dallas, Aaron Williford would often walk out the front doors at the end of the day and glance up at the Texas Star, visible above the trees of Fair Park, just a few blocks away. The giant Ferris wheel would bring a smile to Aaron’s face as a flood of memories returned and his thoughts turned towards his family.
“I’ve been going to the State Fair of Texas ever since I was a toddler,” Aaron recalls. “My mother and father would take me and my sister every year.”
A resident of DeSoto, Texas for much of his life, Aaron found that the State Fair of Texas was an experience that he would revisit throughout his life. He recalls eating Fried Butter for the first time at the Fair, winning prizes at games on the Midway, and watching the State Fair Classic Football Game in the Cotton Bowl. As a teenager, Aaron would return to the Fair with friends and classmates to enjoy the Fair’s atmosphere from a slightly different perspective.
“I was so excited to pick out an outfit, collect some of my money I made in the summer and use it to get coupons and goodies, and wash and clean my car to ride into the Fair in style,” Aaron remembers. “I still get excited thinking about those days.”
While his time spent at the Fair was filled with carefree memories, Aaron also made time to take his educational career seriously. He exceled in both academics and extracurricular activities at James Madison. He had a fondness for History and enjoyed Government and Math. As an athlete, Aaron maintained a high GPA, trained rigorously, and would eventually win a state championship as part of the
school’s varsity basketball team. In his senior year of high school, all his hard work would pay off when his academic counselor told him that he qualified for a unique scholarship that would again flood him with memories: the Pete Schenkel Scholarship from the State Fair of Texas.
As graduation quickly approached, Aaron applied for the scholarship and soon after his eighteenth birthday, he received a letter in the mail. Aaron anxiously opened the letter with his parents and when he realized that he would indeed be receiving the Pete Schenkel Scholarship, the family celebrated. Before he knew it, Aaron was walking across the stage at the Music Hall in Fair Park and receiving the scholarship in a ceremony he recalls as being “surreal.”
“That day I received the award, I was so excited because not only had I got a scholarship, but four of my other classmates got the scholarship as well!”
After graduation, Aaron decided to attend Texas A&M University – Commerce in East Texas to study accounting and business. Leaving his life and family behind in DeSoto was a transitional experience for him, but the scholarship he received from the Fair actually played a key part in empowering Aaron to find his footing in higher education.
“I remember during my first years of college, students who got the scholarship were required to submit a report about how the semester went, in addition to grade reports. Doing that helped me as far as being able to articulate to an audience what I had been doing and what I was experiencing at school,” says Aaron. “That momentum and confidence allowed me to be hungrier to take on new challenges.”
New challenges are exactly what Aaron pursued. Not only has he spent the last four years at A&M Commerce excelling at his academics, but he also found the time to complete several internships for accounting firms, financial service industry leaders, and public service organizations like the United States House of Representatives. Aaron also founded an accounting society on campus, while becoming a part of the Regents Scholarship Program and joining the National Association of Black Accountants.
Looking back at his educational achievements, Aaron says that the Pete Schenkel Scholarship not only gave him financial support to pursue these opportunities, but also something equally worthwhile.
“I am very thankful that people have continued to support the [State Fair of Texas Scholarship program], because I have received more than just a monetary award; I’ve also received a sense of pride,” says Aaron. “Pride in the sense that I feel that I have to try to do my best during these past years of college to make it easier for future generations.”
Indeed, Aaron has a plan to forge a path for these future generations he speaks of. After graduating from A&M Commerce next month with a degree in accounting, Aaron plans to earn a professional accounting license. Once he becomes established in his career, Aaron says he wants to start a scholarship program of his own to assist youth in the Dallas-Fort Worth area; ambitious students like he once was – a young man walking under the hopeful shadow of a Ferris wheel with dreams of attending college.
“The Pete Schenkel Scholarship, gave me not just the financial support, but the confidence to be able to work towards opportunities. The State Fair of Texas’ scholarship program, I believe, is the best way to impact the community, like it impacted me.”