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Grandmother Who Won $80,000 Full Ride Set To Graduate From College

 Lori Burns (center) said she went back to school to set an example for her two children.
Lori Burns (center) said she went back to school to set an example for her two children.
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AUBURN GRESHAM — It was “nothing but God” who helped a single mother of two receive a full ride to college, she said.

Two years after her blessing, 42-year-old Lori Burns of Auburn Gresham is set to graduate in June from East West University with a 3.4 grade point average.

Burns and her family were living in an apartment, and she was working full time as a receptionist when Burns learned her recently graduated teen daughter was pregnant. 

It was the beginning of 2015. Burns said she prayed and asked God for direction. At the time, she was interested in pursuing a career in nursing, but during prayer she said she felt led by God to go after a business degree.

She already had earned an associate’s degree at age 28 and over the years had worked as an administrative assistant in the health care industry. Not sure of her next move, she  took some time off.

“I went online and started looking at schools" that were affordable, Burns said. “I happened to come across East West University, and I saw that they were having the East West Challenge contest with a grand prize of a four-year scholarship.”

Burns entered the contest and was called in for an interview. Winning the scholarship was a shock, she said.

“It really blew my mind because I had never won anything like that before,” she said. “It’s such a blessing. I thank God for it and East West.”

She enrolled as a full-time student the day after winning the scholarship and continued to work full time to support her family. It was stressful, she said, but she managed.

Life got even more difficult when the family's apartment flooded.

“We lost a lot of our belongings,” she said. “The water was a half-foot high. It was devastating, and I felt overwhelmed.”

She continued to rely on strength from God to remain focused, Burns said.

Her family tells her all the time how proud they are of her, she said, adding that her main goal was to set an example for her son and daughter, who last year gave birth to Burns' granddaughter.

“This is to show her, yes, I became a young mom, but it’s never too late to pursue your goals and to follow your dreams," she said. "No matter how late in life it may be, you can still accomplish them. Is it easy? No, but when you have God to give you the strength and help you stay focused, and you have the determination, you can do it.”

She now has a goal to own a business, Burns said. She's leaning toward opening a bakery with healthy food options or a health-related business. She is considering getting a master's degree too, she said.

Ray Kohl, associate director of admissions for the university, said Burns took advantage of a “tremendous opportunity.”

Each year the school has selected one grand prize winner who receives a full ride, another student gets half of tuition covered, and four get their books covered, he said. Students submit an essay about themselves and they interview with a committee.

This year the deadline for the application is the last week of March because the next quarter starts April 3.

Kohl called the university a “hidden gem” because the perception is that the private institution isn’t affordable, “but that’s not true.”

Academic adviser Chelious Higgins said East West attracts students from all walks of life and gives special attention to nontraditional students like Burns.

“We have support on campus for them, such as the student success center,” she said, which provides resources, adding that there’s also career and professional development.