A lot has changed since Jordan Shelley was 7 years old and his father died in his birth country of Ethiopia. One thing has not: Shelley’s desire to become a doctor and help people like his father.
“With the amazing medical facilities that are here (in the U.S.), he would’ve been healed,” Shelley, 18, said, sitting outside his Greenbank home. “But instead, the infection spread to the rest of his body and he died when I was about 7 and a half. That was something that really touched my heart.”
He’ll be closer to his goal after he completes his last classes at Skagit Valley College on June 16 with a scholarship for two years of full tuition and a stipend for books and rent at the University of Washington.
Shelley recently received the Sydney S. McIntyre Jr. Memorial Scholarship, the college’s largest scholarship.
“When they said my name, I freaked out,” he said. “My body actually froze and when I stood up, my knees almost gave out.”
His adoptive parents, Teresa and Lanny Shelley, were with him. His mother home schooled Jordan and his six siblings until they reached fourth grade.
Jordan took fifth grade at Coupeville High School, skipped sixth grade and then took classes through Oak Harbor Public School’s HomeConnection.
He completed his last two years of high school while simultaneously completing his associate’s degree through Running Start at SVC.
“It doesn’t matter what he does, he does his best at it—even if he hates it,” Teresa Shelley said.
The Shelleys adopted Jordan and his younger siblings Simon and Banchegize from an orphanage in Ethiopia and brought them to their home on Whidbey Island in 2008. He was 8 years old and didn’t speak English. It was January, and when the plane landed there was snow on the ground, which he had never seen before.
“It wasn’t difficult, it was different,” Jordan said of transitioning to his new life.
His mother said he wasn’t sure what to do with his food, and it took him a while to grasp that he could have as much as he wanted, but other than that he adapted easily to life on the island.
“This is amazing,” Jordan said as he pointed around him. “The greenery, the birds, the water— I never got this in Ethiopia.”
Teresa Shelley said right away he excelled in academics and always demonstrated gratitude for his lessons. He especially liked his math lessons, she said.
“He thanked me for his maths every day,” she said.
Jordan said his mother’s stories from working as registered nurse in labor and delivery also motivated him to pursue a career in medicine, particularly anesthesiology.
Her stories of women in pain during labor being helped by anesthesiologists peaked his interest.
“They’re like the caped superheroes of the hospital,” he said. “I wanted to be that … They have the power and the knowledge, mainly knowledge, to be able to help people out when they’re in pain.”
During his time at the college, he also job shadowed Dr. David Mourning, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in back, neck and spine injuries and conditions. Mourning told Jordan about a patient who was in so much pain that he couldn’t walk, but after a surgery on his spine and short recovery, he was able to walk again and drive himself home.
“To be able to have that power, that ability to make such a difference in someone’s life— I think that’s inspiring,” Jordan said.
He has dreamed about going to the UW since he visited it in fifth grade, he said. He also dreamed of playing collegiate soccer, but he said he gave up the sport his sophomore year of high school to focus more on his studies.
“As you get older you start realizing what’s a dream and what’s reality,” he said. “And for me, trying to reach the medical field while trying to play soccer at the same time was the dream, and focusing on my education 100 percent was the reality.”
Jordan said in addition to his academics, he’s always worked to be as financially independent as possible. He said he’s been doing odd jobs, like yard work, since he was 8 years old. Later this month he will leave to work on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska, something he said he’s wanted to do for years.
He lined up the job before he knew he received the scholarship, but he’s glad the money will be able to go toward transportation and other expenses now that he knows his education, room and board, and books will be paid for.
“It relieves so much stress,” he said. “Because of this scholarship I don’t have to worry about the next two years of my education pretty much … I couldn’t be any more thankful for them giving me this opportunity.”