Scholarships open doors for nursing student, mother of three

Melissa Varner
May 19, 2023
Laarni Sanders stands in front of her home with her husband and three children.
College of Nursing student Laarni Sanders with her husband Shedrick and three children, 14-year-old Syleia, 11-year-old Shraja and 9-year-old Shedaveon

Laarni Sanders wakes up by 4:30 a.m. at the latest during the school week. She gets herself ready and then starts making and packing lunches for her three children.

“That way it's less chaos for my husband when he drops them off,” she explains.

She’s out the door by 5:30 a.m., headed north from her home in Beaufort, South Carolina, to the MUSC College of Nursing in downtown Charleston. Laarni is a student in the college’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. It’s a fast-track option for students like Laarni, who already have 60 or more hours of college credit. Through the ABSN program, she will earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 16 months instead of the traditional four years.

Classes are held on-campus, so Laarni makes the two-hour commute twice a day, Monday through Thursday.

Laarni Sanders stands in from the the College of Nursing building on MUSC's campus.
Laarni Sanders is an ABSN student in the College of Nursing.

“Four hours on the road is very hard,” Laarni said. “I try to do as much work as I can on campus. On my way home, I'm usually listening to recordings from lectures to use my time wisely.” When she gets home, she’s still on the go, picking her children up from sports or honor society and then juggling dinner duties with her husband, Shedrick.

Shedrick is in school for biblical studies, Laarni says. “I'm so thankful for him because he also works two to three jobs so I could stop working and go to school. And so, when I saw that I received the Lettie Pate Whitehead scholarship, it was such a huge blessing and lifted a burden off us.”

The Lettie Pate Whitehead scholarship supports female students with financial need in nine Southeastern states. Laarni is one of 49 MUSC nursing students who received a Lettie Pate Whitehead scholarship for the 2022-23 school year. Over the past 30-plus years, the foundation has given more than $3.4 million in scholarship funding to the MUSC College of Nursing.

Laarni has also benefited from the SEED program, which is supported by the Duke Endowment. SEED stands for Supporting Educational Excellence and Diversity for South Carolina Nursing. The program helps train diverse students to fill an urgent need for skilled nurses in South Carolina’s rural and medically underserved communities.

Laarni, a Filipino American, developed a heart for service at a young age. “My dad was military, so I moved around my whole life,” she explained. “Being exposed to other cultures really helped me understand what people receive or how different it is, even in different parts of the United States. That inspired me to pursue health care.”

Laarni started her career as a medical assistant, eventually transitioning into administrative work. But she knew it wasn’t what she was meant to be doing. At nearly 40, Laarni decided to go back to school.

“I decided to just trust in what God had planned,” she said. “I applied to MUSC, and seeing all the doors open through donors and scholarships just solidified the path I'm supposed to go on.”

Laarni has a year to go until graduation – another year of four-hour commutes at least four times a week. And although it’s hard now, she knows it’s only temporary. “I'm passionate about this. I know the end result will be worth it.”

She and Shedrick are also proud of the example they’re setting for their three children: 14-year-old Syleia, 11-year-old Shraja and 9-year-old Shedaveon.

“I always tell my kids, ‘Whenever people help you, you do what you can. And when you’re able to step on your own two feet, you pay it forward.’ I am looking forward to the day where I've graduated and stable and we can give generously as well … I think that's very important. It shows that, ‘Hey, I'm not just here to receive I want to give back.’”

Until then, she remains grateful to the donors who have made this path possible.

“Thank you for being a part of this journey,” Laarni said. “By giving, you’re not just making a difference in my life, but the lives of all the patients I’ll help in the future.”