Mark and Kelly Clayton visited Texas A&M University-Commerce on February 5 to establish the Clayton Legacy Scholarship for Education. The renewable scholarship benefits full-time undergraduate students who are seeking teacher certification at A&M-Commerce.
In part, the Claytons chose A&M-Commerce because Kelly is an alumna. She graduated with a Master of Science in History in 2019.
“I was really impressed with both the faculty and the students who were in my classes,” Kelly said. “Everyone was very smart and hard-working. There was a diverse population, and it was such an enriching part of my life.”
Mark and Kelly established the Clayton scholarship in honor of Mark’s mother, Annie Beth Clayton. Mrs. Clayton grew up in the Lufkin area and was a long-time public elementary school teacher in Conroe, Texas, and in Ferguson, Missouri. She taught in some of the most disadvantaged schools in the district.
“She was a pretty amazing spitfire of a woman,” Mark said. “She was a feminist when feminism wasn’t cool, and she always believed that one thing she could control in life was somebody’s opportunity to succeed.”
The Claytons believe public education is a powerful tool to enable social equity, and they actively promote public education however they can.
Kelly said, “When we moved into our home in Dallas ten years ago, our neighbors said, ‘I hope you’re saving up money because you’re going to need to enroll your children in private school.’ At that point, we said, ‘Nope. We’re going to research our public schools and find out what the opportunities are.’ And what we found was an amazing place.”
From that point, the couple has worked tirelessly to support Dallas ISD and spread the word about the great opportunities in Dallas public education. As a Dallas city councilman, Mark addressed city-wide issues that affected children. As a volunteer and small business owner, Kelly immersed herself in local projects to improve outcomes for all children, especially those in need.
The couple’s newest contribution to public education, The Clayton Legacy Scholarship for Education, will enable aspiring educators to graduate and find their way to classrooms throughout Texas.
Recalling the financial hardships that threatened their own access to college education, both Mark and Kelly want to help other students fulfill their educational goals and enjoy college life without excessively worrying about finances.
Growing up, Kelly assumed she wouldn’t be able to afford college.
“I lived in the shadows of a big state university, and I was surrounded by people who were planning to go to college, but it just never felt like it was going to be a reality for me,” she said.
However, scholarships opened the door to a college education for Kelly.
“I’ll never forget the name of the private scholarship that helped me purchase books and live and complete my degree,” Kelly said. “I thought it was so generous of that family, and I just thought, ‘Oh, they chose me, and I get this money to fulfill my dream!’ That has always stayed with me.”
As a student, Mark experienced financial strain as well.
“My parents sent me to college, but I remember when my mom called me and said, ‘We don’t know if we can send you back next semester because we just don’t have the money.’ There’s a lot of stress that goes along with that,” Mark said.
The Clayton Legacy Scholarship for Education will support and encourage future teachers at A&M-Commerce for years to come.
“We’re hoping to help someone who feels like they just need a little help to get them over the hump to complete their degree and fulfill their dreams,” Kelly said.