Growing up in Paris, Texas, Isabella LoCicero couldn’t imagine the bright future that now awaits her.
On Friday, LoCicero will graduate from Tyler Junior College with an Associate of Arts in government.
In the fall, she will transfer to Baylor University, where she has earned the Glenn R. Capp Fellows Scholarship for speech and debate, worth more than $200,000. The scholarship will cover her remaining two years toward her bachelor’s degree and, eventually, law school.
“I’m actually still processing the fact that I’m going to Baylor,” she said. “I’m a poor kid. I am not the girl who gets things like this. That’s not how I saw myself — not in the past, anyway.”
Two years ago, LoCicero arrived at TJC as a first-generation college student without a real plan.
“I was successful in speech and debate in high school, so my high school instructor Mrs. Kristi Hodgkiss encouraged me to come here,” she said. “She said, ‘[TJC Speech and Debate team coaches] M’Liss Hindman and Joan Andrews will take care of you, and you will do whatever they tell you to do.’”
LoCicero took her high school mentor’s advice. As a member of the TJC Speech and Debate team, she wasn’t just successful — she became a national champion.
At last month’s Phi Rho Pi Community College National Tournament in Bethesda, Maryland, TJC competed against 53 other schools from around the country. LoCicero earned gold in impromptu speaking, silver in IPDA debate and bronze in parliamentary debate. She was named the tournament's fourth overall top speaker out of 450 competitors.
Soon after the national championship win, she was contacted by Dr. Jeff Nagel, director of Baylor’s Glenn R. Capp Debate Forum, who offered her the scholarship to compete on their speech and debate team and continue her studies.
At Baylor, LoCicero plans to triple major in economics, professional writing and rhetoric, and humanities research.
“Ultimately, this will lead toward a law career,” she said. “I’ve always had the gift of gab, ever since I was little; and being a force for good fulfills a part of me that wants to make a difference in the world. I have a million different ideas for myself, but right now I have a strong desire to be a prosecutor specializing in sexual offenses. I want to bring justice.”
Hindman believes LoCicero will do just that.
“Isabella is one of the most intelligent and hardworking students I have ever worked with,” she said. “She has an intense drive to be the best she can be and yet is gracious and kind and very generous. I look forward to watching her exceed to new heights at Baylor and beyond.”
LoCicero credits TJC with helping her find her way and spread her wings.
“When I first came here, I didn’t feel like I would be successful,” she said. “I’d say that I have changed more in my two years at TJC than I had in my whole life, so far.”
TJC Honors Program Director Dave Funk said, “I think it’s fair to say that Isabella had a tumultuous start at TJC. Even the best of us might struggle if we’re not in the right place. When she came to TJC, she found people who cared if she came to class. Cared if she was safe. Cared if she ate. With that support, she flourished.”
LoCicero agreed, “There’s an openness here, and the people are helpful. I discovered this ability to choose my own path. Initially, going to a junior college instead of a university seemed like a step back; but, in reality, TJC was the best thing that could have happened to me.”