By Maria Brockman, Crystal Dyer and Eryn Mattox
When Lincoln, Neb., twins Britney and Bethany Wekesser arrived on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on May 10, 2005, they received the biggest surprise of their lives — a $300,000 check to pay for college.
They never expected it. They didn’t ask for it.
“We were just two normal Nebraskan girls,” Britney said.
They were told Oprah was recognizing students who had overcome challenges. Both Britney and Bethany had a learning disability that they struggled with from first grade to middle school.
“We had trouble comprehending colors, knowing our ABCs, reading. We just didn’t make sense of education like our peers,” Bethany said. “It required a lot of hard work and extra schooling.”
But by high school, the twins had overcome their disability and graduated at the top of their class.
Their appearance on Oprah was for a different educational battle – paying for college.
“It was my dad’s dream to send us to college,” Bethany said.
Unfortunately, Bob Wekesser was unemployed. He had been laid off, so there wasn’t enough money to pay for the twins’ education. Despite the circumstances, Bethany said the family was “willing to work together through the issues, which may have meant selling the house.”
What the twins didn’t realize was that eight months prior, Oprah had received a letter from older siblings Dustin and Jinohn Wekesser. The letter was submitted with the hope that it would be one of Oprah’s “Wildest Dreams” selections. The family had no idea.
Britney and Bethany’s college dreams became a reality that day when Oprah revealed she would pay for the twins’ college.
“We were just numb,” mother Karen Wekesser said, after learning the news. “It was overwhelming as a parent to be so proud of your children. It was the most amazing day of our lives.”
Bethany and Britney received a $300,000 check to pay for any four-year university. The twins chose Baylor. The check covered tuition, fees, room and board, books — everything needed for a complete college experience.
“We fell in love with Baylor,” Bethany said. “It was our first choice.”
Through the experience, Britney and Bethany’s lives were enriched. They were able to receive an education, join groups and organizations, study abroad – opportunities they would have had to forgo.
“I was humbled and never took it for granted,” Bethany said. “My family was a recipient of dozens of people’s hard work. All we did was receive a gift of grace.”
But the story doesn’t end there.
After graduating from Baylor in May 2009, although both remained in Texas, their lives diverged.
Bethany lives in Carrollton with her parents. Two years ago, she made a serious career change.
At Baylor, Bethany majored in communications with an emphasis in television. During her four years, Bethany said she made intensive efforts to work hard and develop an impressive resume.
“I always wanted to be a talk show producer,” Bethany said. “Being on Oprah deepened those desires. I worked on the “Tyra Banks Show,” the “Rachael Ray Show” and applied to work on “The Oprah Show.” I loved the hype and the fast-paced culture.”
After a few years in the industry, her perception changed.
“I had other priorities,” Bethany said. “I wanted to see my family, have my weekends free, get into ministry. To do that, I took a massive pay cut.”
Bethany now works as a Starbucks barista in Carrollton. This is a first step into what she hopes to be a successful career in the coffee industry.
“It was a hard transition, but I connected the dots,” Bethany said. She said she is hopeful about the future and knows that with persistence, loyalty and a good work ethic, she will help her accomplish her goals.
After receiving her B.B.A. in professional selling, her sister Britney began working as a sales representative with Hershey Co.
Even though 2009 was a period of minimal job growth, Britney had little difficulty starting her career. “I would have been financially strapped for life,” Britney said. “More stressed with the pressures of trying to succeed.”
Four years later, Britney switched jobs. She transferred to Walmart to become a part of the management program. She currently manages a multimillion-dollar division with more than 300 employees.
Although Britney and Bethany have led different lives since “The Oprah Show,” both want their story to be a testament for those struggling to pay for college.
“No matter what happened, we never used our weaknesses as an excuse,” Bethany said. “Even without the money, the Lord would have taken care of us. Financial need is everywhere, but convincing those decision makers you are worth the investment takes diligence, creativity, timing, work, persistence and passion.”