For most students, coming into their freshman year of college is an exciting but nerve-wracking time, but for freshman Gavin Cunningham, it was more than that.
Cunningham is the most recent recipient of the McLean County Full Tuition Scholarship, which is a scholarship awarded by Illinois State University to incoming freshman from McLean County who have shown “leadership, service and commitment to our community,” according to ISU’s Admissions website.
For most, the scholarship would simply be a great thing in their life, but for Cunningham it was long overdue good news.
“My initial diagnosis was that I had a brain abscess. I was treated for it for six weeks, but after they found that the mass wasn’t shrinking, we discovered that I had a brain tumor,” Cunningham said. “I was terrified of the situation, but having my family and friends support me made it a much more bearable.”
The tumor was found to be benign and was subsequently removed, but Cunningham was changed by the experience.
Before this event, he was a committed activist for the Not In Our School chapter at Normal West High School and co-founded BN Youth Activists, a group that advocates for various causes, including but not limited to environmental issues and gun control. After his experience with the tumor, he felt more inclined toward helping change the world than ever.
“The whole experience definitely made me want to be more active, and at a higher level,” Cunningham said. “I’m becoming more active in advocacy for Black Lives Matter as well as my NIOS chapter. I’m also hoping to advocate for those who don’t have access to good health insurance.”
While his commitment to activism remains stronger than ever, Cunningham also underwent some internal changes as a result of the tumor. A health scare of this level will change you, and he feels that he’s no exception to this.
“I felt more happy and more laid-back than ever before. It makes you realize that you shouldn’t waste time being indecisive or sitting there wishing you could do something,” said Cunningham. “It really made me take a step back and realize that, while bad stuff happens in life, you shouldn’t get all hung up on them.”