When Ithaca College junior Samantha Watts arrived on set at the “Today Show” on June 20 as a finalist for a scholarship contest, she suspected that she was the winner, but she couldn’t be sure. When she was told on-air that she had indeed won, Watts was left speechless, clasping her hands over her mouth, even when comedian Will Ferrell appeared to present her with a check for $100,000.
“It was overwhelming excitement,” said Watts. “I knew my parents were so happy about it, and I couldn’t express how much it meant to me because it’s just such a life-changing opportunity that we got.”
Ferrell was on hand to promote his new movie, “The House.” Warner Bros., which produced the film about two parents who open an underground casino to pay for their daughter’s college tuition, sponsored the scholarship contest. Ferrell joked after handing Watts a giant check: “You can’t actually cash this, OK? They’ll give you a real check.”
A speech pathology major, Watts was chosen from nearly 2,000 applicants to receive the scholarship. The “Today Show” had previously sought students who were deserving of help paying for college. Watts saw an ad for the contest on Facebook and applied.
When asked by host Hoda Kotb why she deserved the scholarship, Watts explained that she needed to go to graduate school in order to practice as a speech pathologist. She also told Kotb that her father recently recovered from esophageal cancer, and the costly treatments left her family dependent on scholarships and loans to pay for her education.
“It’s definitely a weight off our shoulders for me to be able to at least continue at IC for the rest of my undergrad,” said Watts. “I’m really hoping that after I get my master’s I can start working as a speech therapist in a school system, preferably with younger kids — pre-school or elementary — and really try to make a difference in that way.”