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Soddy-Daisy student wins Gates Millennium Scholarship

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SODDY DAISY, HAMILTON COUNTY, TN. (WRCB) -- It's a big honor for a Soddy-Daisy high student. Sam Sadowitz is Hamilton County's first ever recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates Scholarship.

Scholarships don't get much bigger than this. His four-year degree, graduate school, even a Ph.D are all paid for, just as long as Sam puts in the work.

That shouldn't be an issue. Sam has been doing the work against all odds since pre-school when he was diagnosed with autism.

"Rest if you must, but don't you quit," says 18-year-old Sam Sadowitz.

That's an excerpt from his favorite poem.

Sam is set to graduate from Soddy-Daisy High School with a 3.96 GPA, as Hamilton County's first ever Gates Millennium Scholarship winner.

"Sammy has overcome so many obstacles that no body even knows. To look at Sam today, he's not the same as he was when he was a little boy," says Sam's mother, Rachel.

Single mother Rachel has raised Sam along with two other autistic children. She's Sam's rock, and vice versa. 

Rachel smiled on Wednesday, remembering a therapist who told her maybe one day Sam would be a productive member of society.

"I thought no! There is only one who knows where he's going. That's the big guy up there. I'm going to keep pushing."

Rachel constantly found ways to get Sam in camps. Even today he steadily shows progress. In high school Sam found a mentor and friend in head football coach Kevin Orr.

Orr says, "Sure he's autistic, people tell me that. I can't tell you that. He's my guy, my player, my friend. Sam does everything everybody does better."

Orr says Sam's perseverance touches everyone on his team. Sam hopes his story can affect more and maybe show others out there that autism isn't the end, even if it seems like it.

Sam says, "I still struggle with getting overwhelmed. But I look at it as a fact of life, people will get overwhelmed. It's just how you deal with that."

More than 25,000 students applied for this scholarship, but there can only be 1,000 winners.

Sam is headed to UTC next year, where he plans to pursue military engineering.

It's been a life-long goal of his to serve our country.

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