This past October tragedy struck the Southeast Michigan Construction Academy (SEMCA), as SEMCA staff was informed that one of its students, RJ Rink, passed away.
Shortly after the news, SEMCA staff called RJ’s mom and said that they wanted to refund his tuition. It was the right thing to do. What staff only found out later was that the mom was on her way to the funeral home when they called.
RJ was a 20-something first-year, first-semester student at SEMCA. He was studying to become an electrician. A few months earlier, RJ had been at home when a couple electricians came over to fix something at the house. He saw their work and asked how one went about becoming an electrician. They told him SEMCA was the place to go.
RJ had previous struggles to start on a bona fide career path, and he left his job as a restaurant server in order to become an electrician. He was a single dad of a four-year-old little boy and lived at home with his mom as he was trying to make this transition.
Once he started school at SEMCA, he found his passion. He wondered why he did not do this sooner. He started school the last week of August and by September, he found a job. His mom said that he posted nearly every day on social media about what he was learning, the new places he was working, the new tools he was accumulating. There was palpable excitement about the life he had ahead of him. And then in October, his mom, who was traveling on vacation, received the call that every parent dreads.
Shortly after SEMCA’s call offering a full tuition refund, the family reached back out. They wanted to make something positive out of such inconsolable grief. RJ’s uncle wrote SEMCA a $10,000 check to provide ten $1,000 scholarships to students in the program. In many cases, these students struggle early on to pay the tuition, as they start out at entry level wages. So, a scholarship like this can be very meaningful to those young men and women who much resemble the young and hopeful RJ.
In January, the staff at SEMCA was joined by RJ’s mom to award the Promise Scholarship in Memory of RJ Rink in front of the classes. The staff shared RJ’s emotional story with red, teary eyes to a half dozen different classes. The crescendo of the last night was visiting the actual class and classmates of RJ to tell the story. After every scholarship presentation, RJ’s mom gave the award recipients a Carhartt winter cap. She said, “as any mom would do” to ensure their child was warm on the job site. And in every class, and in every instance, the awardees came up and hugged RJ’s mom.
Taking terrible sadness and tragedy and turning it into an act of love to help others—to springboard something bad into something good—it’s what makes life’s moments so beautiful.