The Gift of Gratitude: Valencia Grad
Creates Scholarship Fund
to Honor a Donor
// BY JAY HAMBURG
Eddie Coleman never forgot the Valencia Foundation board member who changed his life. He never met him or her. And 17 years later, he still doesn’t know the person’s name or what she or he looks like. Just the same, he never forgot.
“I always think about that person. I don’t know if they know how much it meant to me throughout my life,” said Coleman, who owns WavaTron, a computer software and IT consulting firm.
Without Valencia, he knows he might never have been able to work with Xerox and CenturyLink or create software solutions for electronic medical records for several Central Florida doctors. “One of my greatest accomplishments came in the form of an AA degree from Valencia College,” he said. “I knew I had to pay it forward. I wanted to help others go to Valencia.”
The result was the Eddie E. Coleman Scholarship Award for graduates of Jones High School in Orlando, where he attended. The award is celebrating its 10th year.
Back in 1989, however, Coleman was simply excited to enter Valencia, hoping to become an engineer. He loved how “Valencia College fostered an environment reflective of my family values while encouraging academic excellence.” But he had no idea of the setbacks he was to encounter or how an anonymous benefactor’s support would guide him through a dark time.
Coleman worked while taking classes, but he needed more help. He applied for a substantial scholarship and was disappointed when not selected. “It was going to take longer to graduate,” Coleman said. “But entrepreneurial spirit flowed through my veins.” So he shook off the sadness and kept going.
Then came the news. An anonymous board member from the Valencia Foundation had
been impressed and had set up a private fund so Coleman could buy books and college supplies.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I got very emotional to think that someone saw something in me and wanted to help.” He lived at home, kept working and graduated in 1991 with an A.A. degree. He next stop was the University of Central Florida to study engineering.
His parents cheered him on, as he worked to become the first in the family to earn a four-year degree. His father, a Korean War veteran and longtime postal worker, was especially proud. “My father was a huge influence. I learned at a very early age to listen to him.”
Shortly before Coleman started at UCF, he and his father were taking a leisurely evening drive, talking over the future when his dad, who was sitting in the passenger seat, suddenly slumped over, suffered a massive heart attack and died.
Coleman was overwhelmed. “It traumatized me and caused me emotional setbacks,” he said. “Money was running out. I didn’t have enough to put gas in the car.” But his father had instilled a strong sense of self-reliance, so to save costs, he drove the car only a short distance to Orlando’s main downtown bus station, found a free parking place, took what could be a 90-minute ride to UCF for classes and another back, often arriving home after 11:30 p.m.
“I was working. I didn’t have time to study. My grades fell. I had to retake some classes.” But with prayer and his family’s emotional care, he steadied himself. He also leaned on the memory of his father’s support and of that unknown person from Valencia who believed in him. “I knew I couldn’t stop. There were too many eyes on me.”
Coleman eventually graduated UCF in 1995 with a degree in computer science, a minor in business administration and an even stronger bond with a Valencia person he never met.
“I hope they’re still out there,” he said. “I always thank them. Whoever they are, I hope they’re happy with their return on their investment in me.”
Laura spends her summers volunteering in Costa Rica. She works to help underprivileged kids at an elementary school and exotic animals at a wildlife sanctuary. Her story is one of many.
Say it forward.