Jarious Avery grew up too quickly.

That’s what happens when you’re orphaned at age 11. But he’s not the type to feel sorry for himself. In fact, the Auburn University freshman and biomedical sciences major credits that defining experience with giving him the determination to make his dreams come true.

“You just can’t stay sad for the rest of your life,” Jarious said. “Don’t get me wrong, you have to grieve, but once you get past that, you have to keep going. You have to live your life.”

He grew up in Gadsden, Alabama. After his mom died, he moved in with his older brother, AJ, a welder by trade and his younger brother’s caregiver by necessity. It was AJ who raised Jarious from then on. And it was AJ who helped him move into his dorm room in Auburn last summer.

“AJ was proud when I told him about receiving scholarships to Auburn, but I don’t think it really hit him until we got here,” Jarious said. “He didn’t want to leave. He told me, ‘I want you to make us proud.’ But then he looked at me and said, ‘No, what I hope is that you just make yourself happy, okay?’”

In the years before coming to Auburn, Jarious began his pursuit of happiness with vague dreams of attending college and pursuing a career in medicine. As a first-generation college student, he was alone in the complicated process, navigating every decision by himself — from which school to attend to admission requirements and financial aid possibilities. He weighed many options and then set his course for Auburn. But college is expensive. Without financial aid, it is often outside the grasp of students like Jarious. Donors, including Wendy and Ed Thomas, are making dreams come true for students with financial need.

Ed, a 1996 Auburn graduate, is the Charles W. Barkley Endowed Professor of Physics and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Sciences and Mathematics. The Thomases created a scholarship for underrepresented students in the college, with the goal of advancing diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, fields.

“I’ve been involved in the work of increasing minority representation and diversity in physics and STEM fields for years,” Ed said. “We wanted to target students who have been traditionally underrepresented in STEM because it’s so important to grow that cadre of students in these fields.”

Jarious received eight scholarships to start his college career and has earned even more since then. He studies. He works hard. But he also is having the time of his life. He has joined multiple campus clubs, works in his college’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity, and seeks out study abroad and undergraduate research opportunities.

For someone who has become accustomed to carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, Jarious chooses laughter and joy. In short, Jarious is grateful for his life and for his opportunity to be at Auburn.

“I want what everyone wants — a career, a home, a family,” he said. “But I also want to set an example for my nieces and nephews and other kids from Gadsden and all over. I want to show them that you can come from a situation that might be hard, but you can make it what you want it to be. You can make a new life for yourself.”