Going to BYU Was an Impossible Dream, Until . . .
Dinner with the Fairbanks family is largely an international affair, swayed heavily by the Russian contingent of 12 children who were adopted from orphanages in recent years.
This family was very typical, said Annette Fairbanks, who is the oldest of the five biological siblings, until February 2000 when her parents adopted the first three children from Russia. “We were thrilled to have new siblings but found the adjustment was rough on everyone. They had to learn how to live in a family, and we had to learn patience and love to help these victims of abuse and abandonment.”
The adjustments compounded over the next years as nine more children were added. “I accompanied my mother on the last adoption trip,” Annette continued, “and helped bring home our youngest brother and handicapped sister.
“Together we have learned much about agency and trust and to never give up on each other,” she said. “There has been sorrow that I could not have imagined, but there has also been joy in the great blessing of love we have for each other.”
“It may sound odd,” she said, “but being a big sister is the achievement I treasure most. I have had opportunities to experience good things in school, in music and performance, as a full-time missionary, and in various types of employment. I’m grateful for these accomplishments and the richness they’ve brought to my life.”
But, she continues, “being a big sister has helped me grow and develop to interact with people from every background with greater understanding and empathy.”
As it came time to attend college, Annette watched the toll it took on her parents to raise this large family. She feared that asking for their assistance to attend BYU was selfish.
Not long after she enrolled in a local community college in Mesa, Arizona, her father died unexpectedly, which magnified the family’s challenges and effectually snuffed out her lifelong dream. Attending BYU now, she felt, was unrealistic. Her future, she figured, was to follow her mother’s example of sacrificing her wants for the needs and the good of the family. She tried to suppress any emotional longings to study in the spiritual climate of BYU.
“When my father passed away, in addition to grief and sorrow, I felt frustrated and confused that the Lord allowed this to happen when we needed him so much. My mother had more faith than I.”
To adjust, Annette felt she had no alternative but to quit school.
“I found it necessary to interrupt my college work and worried about the academic delay,” she said. “But in retrospect, those months of serving my family while out of school were filled with learning that I could have received in no other way.”
The longings to study at BYU continued, however. “After a couple of years, I started receiving promptings to apply to BYU,” she said. “I was shocked. I still wanted to, but I did not know how it would be possible.”
Annette’s concerns for her widowed mother, who now had the responsibility to care for a large family on her own, weighed heavily on her. Yet, after Annette discussed her feelings with her mother, her mother was enthusiastic about the prospect of studying at BYU and encouraged her to apply, reassuring her that the Lord would provide.
So with more questions than answers, Annette plunged ahead with the application process. One day while visiting the campus at her mother’s encouragement, “I thought to myself that I wanted this to be my campus,” she said. So convinced that she only wanted BYU, she did not apply to any other school.
“When I received notice that I had been accepted, I was filled with such joy and light. I knew it was right. I was so excited. I was finally going to BYU.”
Yet the challenge of financing her education caused great anguish. “I was leaving my employment and didn’t want to rely on my mother,” she said. “I had nothing but simple savings.
“It was horrifying to think that I had such a grand opportunity but would not be able to attend because of finances.
“When I did receive notice of a scholarship I was shocked and dumbfounded. I sat there, staring at the computer screen wondering if I read it correctly. Tears came to my eyes. I read and reread the acceptance notice.
“Many scholarship recipients are more deserving than I,” she said. “Still, I’m honored and humbled. This scholarship is truly one of the greatest blessings of my life. I’m so grateful to those who made it possible for me to attend.”
Annette is studying elementary education with desires to teach and mentor both students in school and children in her home.
“It touches me that someone I have never seen is willing to reach out to help,” she said. “Because of their help, something that seemed impossible to me is becoming a reality.”