As Brian Ezell puts it, "I am not the typical college student."
Three years after beginning his undergraduate education in music at the University of Delaware, Ezell developed a heart arrhythmia and a rare form of type 1 diabetes that frequently left him unconscious and unable to breathe or walk, causing him to take a medical leave of absence he hoped would last a month.
Instead, he returned to campus 10 years later, making the hour-long commute from Smyrna by bus every day for a year-and-a-half and graduating last January, a 32-year-old husband and father of three who sang the national anthem at Winter Commencement.
This fall, Ezell begins graduate study in UD's Department of Music. He is one of only 10 students nationwide to receive the Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Arts Award, an annual need- and merit-based scholarship of up to $50,000 to help "outstanding individuals."
Ezell views an advanced degree as essential to his future goals of singing professionally. "I am a carpenter by trade," he says, "and I know the most important part of construction is building on a solid foundation."
As an undergraduate, Ezell performed diverse numbers in his low bass voice, from opera arias, to art songs, to gospel barbershop ensembles. He even coached with a Czech language professor to perform Dvorak.
"In spite of the many odds against him, odds that would make a normal person quit, I have never heard a pessimistic word out of him," says his adviser Melanie DeMent. associate professor of voice. "Brian knows this career involves unrelenting determination and hard work and is committed to achieving it."
Ezell was nominated for the Jack Kent Cooke graduate scholarship by the music department, and he is the first person in the University's history to earn the prestigious award.
"I have been teaching since 1972 and I cannot think of another young person more deserving of this award and assistance," DeMent says.
For Ezell, receiving the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship was "an incredible surprise and tremendous honor."
Still, his greatest reward is in setting an example for his children, ages 5, 8 and 12.
"It's important for me that they see that I didn't give up," he says. "I went back and earned a degree."
Soon, they'll see him earn one more.