Phi Theta Kappa member Billy “B.J.” Ammons had a secret dream growing up: one day, he would attend a prestigious four-year university. But because he faced many challenges throughout middle and high school, Ammons continued to see this goal for what he felt it was – a secret, and a dream.
He would not have believed that he would be starting this fall at Johns Hopkins University with his tuition paid. But that’s exactly where he’ll be, thanks to the secret dream he never forgot, and his determination to make it a reality.
“One of my best strengths was my focus and (my) determination that kept me determined to achieve my greatest ambitions,” Ammons said. “I spent my nights and weekends studying religiously since I was a child in hopes of one day my hard work would give me the opportunities I have today.”
Ammons was diagnosed with dyslexia early in childhood and with a cognitive learning disability a few years later. As he worked to find a system of learning that was successful, he also had to contend with difficulties at home.
“My background has played a significant role in my life,” Ammons said. “It is hard for students like me, coming from a broken home, to expect to accomplish what many take for granted.
“Growing up, with many obstacles and limitations, I felt that school was the only place where I could make something of myself.”
Ammons’ parents separated when he was born, and he saw very little of his father. He and his mother moved a lot: they lost a home in Dalton, Georgia, to Hurricane Opal in 1995; they lost their next home in Georgia to a tornado. They moved to Alabama, where in 1999 their home was robbed of nearly everything. Their next home in Castleberry, Alabama, was lost to a fire; the next one in Brewton, Alabama, was lost in 2006 to Hurricane Ivan.
“We finally settled in my current home town, Red Level, Alabama,” Ammons said. “I entered Red Level High School midway through my seventh grade year; consequently, entering eighth grade, I had attended 10 different schools.”
Ammons credits his teachers with keeping him on the path to success. He worked to use the limitations of his upbringing to fuel his drive for excellence, graduating as his high school’s Salutatorian with a 4.0 grade point average. He began dusting off his dreams of attending college, which had been shelved for so long, but he found disappointment with his ACT score, making only a 20 after his fifth attempt.
“Although I saw myself as (an exceptional) applicant for many schools based on my extracurricular activities and my volunteer efforts all throughout school, Lurleen B. Wallace Community College (LBWCC) was the only school that noticed my potential and offered a Presidential scholarship,” Ammons said. “I looked on the bright side and knew I would get involved and get to know the faculty at LBWCC.”
Ammons immersed himself in student life at LBWCC, serving as President of the Student Government Association, President and Founder of the Science and Engineering Club, Vice President of his Phi Theta Kappa chapter, Alpha Beta Eta, and Vice President of the Civitan Club. He is a member of the 2012 All-USA Community College Academic Team, Alabama’s 2012 New Century Scholar, and a 2012 Guistwhite Scholarship recipient.
“I joined Phi Theta Kappa because I was a student looking for leadership and recognition,” Ammons said. “This acknowledgement from Phi Theta Kappa has brought the dreams that were never conceivable in my eyes into a reality by the doors my membership has opened for me.”
Ammons no longer felt that his dream of attending a prestigious four-year university was an impossibility. He was accepted to Johns Hopkins University and received a financial aid package that, coupled with his other scholarships and awards, will cover 100 percent of his tuition costs. He said he owes his new-found confidence to his counselor and teachers at LBWCC. He also has a new crop of dreams that he is in no way keeping secret this time. They include attending medical school; helping underserved populations through such organizations as Teach-4-America, AmeriCorps, Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders; being a physician in the United States military; and becoming a White House Fellow, a Rhodes Scholar and a Truman Scholar.
“My long-term goal is to be the Surgeon General of the United States, or (be) in a similar office,” he said. “I went to Red Level High School with a graduating class of about 60 or less. Many people forget that…the ninth Surgeon General of the United States, Luther Terry, grew up and attended school in (the) small town where I am from.”
And for others in a struggle similar to his, Ammons’ advice remains firm and clear: “Dream big, dream often.”