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The Gift of a Dream

Published: July 2nd, 2012

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For Ryleigh Cahill, a wish her daughter McKalyn made on her 9th birthday is what inspired her to finally fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. Cahill, 42, had been a busy and dedicated single mother who never thought she would have the time or resources to make that dream come true.

But it was the support of her daughter along with the generosity of a stranger that enabled Cahill to graduate with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in Spring 2011.

Cahill attended Santa Fe College to complete prerequisites and her Associate of Arts degree, earning a perfect 4.0 GPA. Cahill was doubtful she would get into UF and applied in secret on a whim. When she was admitted, she and McKalyn were ecstatic though Cahill was “pretty scared.”

“It was a little frightening because I didn’t know if I could do it academically, financially or time wise,” Cahill said.

In the spring of her first year, Cahill learned about a nursing scholarship that would cover full tuition for four semesters. The scholarship came from an anonymous donor and required that the recipient must be a single parent with a financial need and have at least a 3.0 GPA.

Cahill applied and two weeks later she learned she received the scholarship.

“It was so humbling. I have no idea how I would have made it through nursing school had I not received the scholarship,” she said.

McKalyn, now in eighth grade at Oak Hall Middle School, said her mother’s time in school has been tough because they have both been so busy, but it was all worth it.

Cahill has no idea who supplied the funds. A simple “thank you” does not describe the appreciation she has for this scholarship that has given her so much.

“Not only was I able to afford needed supplies and books, the scholarship also provided me with something priceless: quality time with my daughter—time that I may not have had if I had needed to be employed while I was a fulltime student.”

Cahill plans to work full-time for a year and then return to UF part-time for the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

“Nurses have the ability to make a difference in patients’ lives. Sometimes it is the simple things that nurses do that patients can’t do for themselves that mean the most,” she said.

Similarly, the scholarship she received while in the nursing program has shown Riley the importance of paying it forward.

“I’ve thought about what kind of person supplied the scholarship,” she said. “I’ll never know, but I hope they know how much their generosity benefited me. I hope that one day I’ll be in a position to reciprocate for a future nursing student.”