INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Think life has stacked the deck against you every so often, maybe too often? To be sure, many of us do have tough problems, adversities, hardships. So if you want or need a little inspiration to help you overcome them, look no farther than this week's Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever.
He has a burning desire to succeed. And Zac Zumwalt has found the right formula for it. He just graduated as one of the top scholars and student leaders of the William Chrisman High School Class of 2012. And he's been accepted into the medical school program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City with the goal of becoming a physician.
"It's my obligation to give back," says Zac. "And I can take care of people and care for them."
Zac's success is all the more phenomenal because of how he has overcome many years of adversity -- family heartache and abuse and abandonment, extreme financial hardships, homelessness.
"I would never wish what happened to me onto anybody," says Zac. "And it's painful and it's sad and I'm still trying to get over things."
Life has been brutal to him -- a lot -- but Zac was willing to ask for and accept help. His cousin took him in to her home. Chrisman High teachers and administrators stepped up with all kinds of assistance and encouragement. And Zac worked hard in a part-time job for a supportive boss. And he persevered.
"I just kept telling myself I can't let myself fail," says Zac. "Get back up. Get right back up and show them who's boss. Don't let those people who ripped you up in thousands of tiny pieces destroy you because then they'll win and I'd be the loser. I didn't want to be the loser. I wanted to win."
Because of Zac's amazing triumph, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, which honors graduating high school seniors who succeed greatly in spite of the odds, has named him one of its 104 National Scholars for 2012 and awarded him a $20,000 college scholarship.
"He's just a really special kid," says William Chrisman High School counselor Dee Hurt who has worked with Zac closely and is one of his major boosters. "There's this story about this young man who has overcome so much adversity but I think something that sort of hasn't been discussed is the drive that he has. And it just goes so far beyond his academics. He's so worthy. He has the drive, the determination. Definitely the character. And seeing him grow and develop that drive to not just want to make things better for him in life and I just see him becoming an advocate for others."
Besides the major award and the big scholarship money for college, the Horatio Alger Association also gave Zac an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC where he got to interact with the movers and shakers of business, government and charity work.
"To see them come up to me and shake my hand and want to know my story, it's just, it's humbling," says Zac. "I still can't believe it. I met some of the biggest, richest people in the world. And they honestly care about me and they want to keep in touch. It's amazing, indescribable. I love it."
And one day, Zac hopes he can be one of those Horatio Alger distinguished Americans to award scholarships to the next generation of young people like him -- a shining role model for all of us.
Our metro area is fortunate to have two other Horatio Alger National Scholars this year, in addition to Zac, the first time in memory we've had three in one year. Megan Smith of Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, KS will use her scholarship to go to the University of Pennsylvania. And Olathe East High graduate Olivia Wills of Olathe, KS is going to Florida International University.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 5 p.m.