KC Scholar Abigail Ruhman: The Vow That Literally Paid Off

One evening after it happened, Abigail Ruhman walked into her kitchen at home. She quickly stopped in her steps when she noticed her mother, Lisa Ruhman, sitting at the kitchen table with tears silently rolling down her face. Abigail wondered what could possibly make her strong, iconic, tenacious mom cry alone at the kitchen table. As she looked closer, she saw that her mother was holding a medical bill—another remnant of the event that ultimately changed Abigail’s college trajectory.

“I remember seeing my mom at the kitchen table crying over a bill and I was like, ‘I don’t want to be that bill,’” Abigail said.

Ruhman
MU Junior Abigail Ruhman poses for a photo outside of Jesse Hall. (Photo/Becca Newton)

In that moment, Abigail made a vow to herself that if she could not fully fund her future college education on her own, she simply would not go. She didn’t want to be a financial burden on her parents. As the daughter of educators, both of whom have a PhD in education from MU, this was a bold vow.

“It was definitely a vow I made to myself and I’m not sure I ever vocalized it to anyone else,” Abigail said. “The vow kind of turned into, ‘I don’t want to go to college if I can’t pay for it so I’m going to do everything in my power to pay for it.’”

“I knew about [the vow] when she started talking about applying for scholarships,” Lisa said. “I was editing her essays and learned a little more about her total experience each time.”

In November of Abigail’s freshman year of high school, right before Thanksgiving, Abigail’s father, David Ruhman, started to experience extreme stomach pain. After taking some time off from work and waiting for the pain to pass, things did not improve. Eventually, David caved and went to the emergency room. The doctors discovered that David’s appendix had burst nearly two weeks prior. The pain of a ruptured appendix is one that Abigail knew all too well.

“Based on my experience in the fifth grade of my appendix bursting, it had burst an hour before they brought me into surgery and it wasn’t great,” Abigail said. “My dad was in the ICU for like a month because your appendix bursting is not something you want.”

That was a scary time for the Ruhman family who were in a constant state of limbo, patiently waiting and hoping for the moment David would be able to return home.

“David’s sudden illness sort of blew us all away,” Lisa said. “He is a walking miracle in so many ways. I deeply love my husband, so his care was never a question. I knew we were in for a long recovery, so I just stepped into it with that understanding.”

Finally, he was released from the hospital and able to continue his recovery at home. Abigail, her mom and her four older siblings left the hospital with David happily in tow. Although they left with a healthy father, they were also left with thousands upon thousands of dollars in medical bills. This was a turning point for Abigail.

“When my dad got sick, it kind of highlighted that I didn’t want to be a financial burden for my family,” Abigail said. “If you look at the early years of high school the things that I did were pinpointed as the things that are supposed to be on a college application.”

Abigail participated in as many extracurricular activities as she could during her high school experience. She played softball, was on the debate team, did theater, participated in forensics and was the editor of the yearbook.

AR-1
MU Journalism, Sociology and Women and Gender Studies student Abigail Ruhman holds her cat Mary Jane Watson (MJ) during a study break, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. (Photo/Becca Newton)

“In high school, I was voted most likely to join every single club and the funny thing is I almost didn’t get that superlative because I was editor of the yearbook,” Abigail said.

While Abigail sometimes reminisces about what she missed out on during high school, her participation in all these clubs and activities helped her grow into the person she is today. On top of her extensive activities, Abigail took dual credit classes through the A+ Program which would allow her to get a two-year college degree, essentially for free.

“My activities resume, I struggled to fit it on one page, and I know that sounds like I’m bragging but I’m not, that’s me crying a little bit about how much I lost in my high school years,” Abigail explained. “I think [extracurricular activities] introduced me to something new and different, it really shaped me into being more aware of the world around me and considering perspectives outside of myself.”

“As a parent, you worry that your last child, the baby of the family, will turn out to be just that, a baby, or soft, spoiled,” Lisa said. “Abigail proved that she would never be any of those things. She put her mind to something, and she went for it. I knew she’d be fine at school. She did more in high school – winning national awards, traveling internationally, engaging in service to others – than I had done all through college.”

As motivated as Abigail was to take on the world, there was still a part of her that was a confused high school student looking for her niche in life.

“If you look at my siblings, they all had something they were really, really good at,” Abigail said. “But I did not have a thing and I never knew how to explain that to anybody, but I didn’t have one, I didn’t get one, it was supposed to come with the Ruhman name and so part of it was me going around trying to figure out what I was good at.”

Being the youngest of five, Abigail had watched each of her older siblings find their “thing” in life and excel at it, now it was her turn.

“Abigail is an incredible, independent, strong young woman,” Lisa said. “We are so proud of her, but not because of all the accomplishments—we knew we were in trouble when she was little and she said she wanted to be like us and be a writer, a veterinarian, work at McDonalds and there was a fourth career in there somewhere that I’ve forgotten, all at once! But it is her heart that I am most proud of, she is sensitive to the needs of those around her and seeks to eliminate people’s pain and suffering.”

Eventually, Abigail’s persistence to build the ideal resume for college would pay off, literally pay off. Abigail began to apply for college scholarships.

“There was like a three-month period where I applied for one scholarship a day,” Abigail said.

Abigail Knits
KC Scholar Abigail Ruhman knits a hat using a circle loom, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. She says knitting helps her focus. (Photo/Becca Newton)

For many students, when it comes time to find a college they apply to several schools. Abigail’s college search process looked very different. For starters, Abigail didn’t have the slightest idea of what career path she desired. On top of that, there was her vow.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do so that made it extremely difficult to look for a college,” Abigail said. “Then whenever the whole not wanting to be a financial burden came into the equation, I didn’t really look for colleges because I didn’t want to look for one based on anything but cost.”

On January 2, 2017 during her junior year, she sat down in front of her computer and quietly waited for the KC Scholars Application to open. Abigail had heard about this new scholarship program which provides substantial financial funding for college for those from the Kansas City area. After a long and extensive application process, Abigail received news she was awarded the scholarship, becoming a member of the inaugural class of KC Scholars at MU.

“I definitely cried a little bit when I found out, essentially for every year up to five years as long as I stay at a KC Scholars school, I get $10,000 of scholarship renewable up to five years,” Abigail said. “It’s one of the fundamental aspects of why I’m in college but even more so it lets me feel less stress attached to the financial side of college just because $10,000 is a lot of money…it’s a lot of money.”

“When you have five children and you’re in education, it’s not going to be easy getting them through college,” Lisa said. “Abigail’s hard work paid off and she was taken care of in a way I could not have provided for. Knowing she was gifted with five years of schooling lifted an incredible burden.”

By this point, Abigail had sort of decided what she wanted to do with her future.

“I was introduced to the idea of journalism and was like, ‘yeah I can do something, I can make a difference’ and once I found journalism, I was like ‘Mizzou makes sense’ but Mizzou wasn’t my plan until I got KC Scholars,” Abigail said. “I didn’t apply to more than one school because I got KC Scholars in May of my junior year so everything kind of centered around that scholarship.”

Ruhman Studying
Ruhman takes notes while reading Wisdom Sits In Places for her History of the American Environment class, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. (Photo/Becca Newton)

KC Scholars wasn’t the only scholarship Abigail received either.

“Other than the KC Scholars and the Land Grant Scholarship, I am also a Kansas City Alumni Chapter Scholar. I got the big kahuna, I have a $5,000 renewable scholarship for up to four years,” Abigail said.

Abigail is undoubtedly grateful for her scholarships, but she understands that even without this money she benefits from privileges that other students may not.

“I think it’s important to recognize that while the fact I’m going through college and not having to pay for it at all is really cool, I’m also from an extremely privileged spot,” Abigail said. “[My parents are] both educators and my family is definitely not from a disadvantaged spot so while everything I’ve done is low-key cool, it’s also from a location of privilege.”

Since arriving at MU in the fall of 2018, Abigail has been nothing short of amazing. That drive she had in high school has intensified. Currently, Abigail is triple majoring in Journalism, Women’s and Gender Studies and Sociology. As if that isn’t enough, she is triple minoring in History, Peace Studies and Leadership and Public Service. Not to mention, she is also a writer for the Center for Academic Success & Excellence’s (CASE) marketing team. For Abigail, all these points of study and her internship, center around her desire to learn about those in the world around her.

“I think [passion for other communities] comes from wanting people to be invested in the communities I’m a part of but I can’t ask people to do that if I’m not willing to put in the same effort on their side,” Abigail said. “Additionally, I have this belief that a lot of people in this nation believe is weird, I believe that people have the right to live.”

“She is also driven by a strong justice mindset. She seeks to right the wrongs of the marginalized,” Lisa said.

JIM
CASE Scholar Abigail Ruhman reads The New Jim Crow on MU’s Campus Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (Photo/Becca Newton)

Abigail anticipates graduating from MU in May 2023. Gazing ahead to life past Mizzou, she isn’t entirely sure what that looks like.

“I had to add an additional year…well I listed my majors and minors already but past that…not a single clue,” Abigail said. “I’ve kept these two ideals that I’ve always wanted in my life: I’ve always wanted to help people and to be content.”

Throughout her college career so far, CASE has been a staple for Abigail in showing her how to effectively live out her life goal of helping others.

“CASE matters to me because it’s one of the few places on campus where they make it abundantly clear that the student in their totality, not just their academics or financials, but in their entire being is their top priority,” Abigail said.

One memory that sticks with Abigail to this day is the time student service coordinator Devara Brock offered to personally teach her how to drive.

“I’ve had huge driving anxiety since I started learning how to drive,” Abigail said. “The first time I met Ms. Brock, I explained that I was working on driving, but I don’t think I told her about the anxiety part directly, but she literally offered to teach me how to drive. I was too nervous to take her up on that, but that’s when I realized how much the CASE staff cared about students.”

While college is far from over for Abigail, she is focused on helping others in hopes of making the world a better place, one day at a time. For a student who almost didn’t come to college, Abigail continues to shock people with her intelligence and genuine soul, and has proven she belongs here.