By Richard LeComte
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Tyler Patton exemplifies persistence: As a first-generation college student, he has weathered family and personal trauma, dropping out of college, a two-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps and financial obstacles on the way to a University of Kentucky bachelor’s degree in English and perhaps on to law school.
Now he’s poised to graduate in May and head off to law school. He credits one faculty member in particular — Michelle Sizemore, associate professor of English — as someone who came through when he needed help, guiding him toward the College of Arts and Sciences’ Finish Line Fund.
“I have a class with Dr. Sizemore called Reading Dangerously, and she's been very helpful to me,” said Patton, who’s from Lexington and graduated from Henry Clay High School. “She's not my academic adviser, but she stepped in and has done more work for me than I could have asked for. I'm taking her class now, and I love her as a professor. It's an interesting class. She reached out to me after class one day and asked, ‘Do you have any financial need? Because there's this new thing that's coming called the Finish Line Fund.”
Sizemore found out about Patton’s circumstances in the summer of 2023 and how a shortage of $600 might prevent him from registering for classes to graduate in May 2024.
"He let me know he was struggling to pay for his courses — courses he needed to graduate I— and I was aware of unmet financial need even before this too," Sizemore said. "So, when I learned about the Finish Line funds, I thought it was likely he had unmet need, especially after completing his law school applications."
Finish Line scholarships are given to students with unmet financial needs. Patton took advantage of this new fund to help him cover unpaid costs for the Fall 23 semester.
“My parents can't give me money,” Patton said. “My grandmother struggles with health issues. It’s basically up to me to put myself through school. And so this semester specifically, I had $600 that I just couldn't account for. I've already put more than I'm comfortable with on my credit cards, and so I started praying. Fortunately, Dr. Sizemore reached out to me at an opportune time, and I received funds.”
After he finished high school in 2016, Patton started at UK as a neuroscience major. His parents both struggled with addiction, so he and his twin brother were raised by their grandmother. But that first semester, he found that pressures in his personal life interfered too much with his schoolwork, and he dropped out.
"My life outside of school began to fall apart," he said. “I lost one of my best friends right before I came. He was killed. My brother was shot shortly after and my mother relapsed round that time, too. I couldn't even focus on school. Also, I was dealing with depression, which at the time I didn’t realize.”
Patton found an alternative path in the Marine Corps; he was stationed stateside — he said he had a “romantic idea about grunt work” — and after two years he received an honorable discharge. He then chose to return to UK, but because he hadn’t withdrawn from the university the first time, he had to start all over with a clean slate. This time, he plugged into a longtime love of reading and opted to pursue an English major.
"I initially came to UK with scholarships for neuroscience," he said. “I wanted to be a doctor. As it turns out, I wasn't as interested in the field as I thought I was. But I had a mentor in high school who introduced me to a lot of books; he's the one who inspired my passion for reading. He would give my twin brother and me books to go home with and read.”
Now Patton is studying English literature. He cites Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, “Up from Slavery,” and the plays of Shakespeare as works of literature that have influenced him deeply.
“It was incredibly inspiring for me considering some of the struggles I've faced,” Patton said “Washington rose from slavery to do all the things that he did. It gave me hope that I could do much more. And I also loved Shakespeare. That came a few years after I had dropped out of UK the first time. I started to dive deeper into my reading.”
His passion for reading and writing has led him to a strong GPA and has won praises from his professors.
"Tyler is an extraordinary student,” Sizemore said. “His sparkling intellect and confident expression grabbed my attention on the very first day of class. And without fail every day since, he has helped raise the level of discussion with his sophisticated and creative analytical readings of our literary texts."
Patton already has been accepted to one law school and is awaiting word on others. He chose to stay in Kentucky for his undergraduate studies to be near his grandmother, who has health issues, and for scholarships.
"I felt because of some of the connections I had here, familial and otherwise, and because of the financial aid offered, this was the right place to be,” he said.
Donors can contribute to the Arts and Sciences Finish Line Fund by going here: https://uky.networkforgood.com/causes/19253-the-finish-line-fund