Friday, February 8, 2013

Robert Cheffy Scholarship

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my former student Robert Cheffy.  I somehow believed that Mr. Cheffy would beat the odds and rebound from his lung cancer, as he had from so many other adversities in his life, but that did not happen. Robert's celebration of life service at Veteran's Village of San Diego was a year ago.  I didn't share my thoughts about Robert at that service but felt compelled to do something to keep Robert's spirit alive in my heart. This spring the first Robert Cheffy scholarship will be awarded at Palomar College, a memorial to a remarkable person who impacted so many people in his recovery journey.

I first met Robert in 2008.  He was a student in two of my classes and later he worked for the AODS (Alcohol and Other Drug Studies) program as a student mentor. Every time I saw Robert he made me smile (even if I was irritated with him) I couldn’t help but turn my lips upward and grin. That was Robert’s trademark: making people feel happy. Robert had a charismatic character and a special gift of seeing the humor in any situation. When I visualize Robert, I see him wheeling his chair around campus greeting students and staff along the way, hearing him use his famous expression, “Don’t trip.” A couple things I learned from Robert during the past 4 years that I knew him.

Robert was devoted to his recovery. He worked really hard and he was brutally honest about his own journey.  Even when he was diagnosed with cancer and was prescribed pain medication, he was conflicted about taking the meds. I witnessed Robert make a “searching and fearless moral inventory”; he was not afraid to discover his liabilities and that willingness resulted in a growing self-confidence that guided him and inspired so many others.

AODS Mentors; Wayne, David, Jacob, Glenn and Robert (seated)

Robert was one of the most resilient people
 I have ever met. He had an inner strength that helped him withstand many of the negative effects of adversity. Robert had spiritual beliefs, which helped him to persist in surviving many challenging life circumstances (including addiction and loss of his legs). Robert had a conviction that his life had meaning. 

He retained that optimistic focus through the last time I visited him in November 2011, when he was still talking about finishing up his degree and working as an AOD counselor. It was incredible for me to witness Robert transform from a struggling and insecure student to become a successful intern and program graduate, and a role model who inspired others as a mentor and friend. 

It will be my great honor to award the first Robert Cheffy Scholarship at the Palomar College Honor's Night event in May.