Matt Seay got a lot out of his four years at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and the first thing he did when he graduated and got a job was to give something back.

Seay, now a fiscal analyst for Lockheed Martin, is one of 1,100 students to have received need-based scholarships at UCCS in the past 11 years — all courtesy of the Bruce & Anne Shepard Reach Your Peak Scholarship Program.

Bruce Shepard, a longtime local developer, began the program to allow under-privileged students a chance. Other local donors have joined in, but the program involves no public money whatsoever.

On Wednesday, graduates and current students in the program gathered downtown and Seay got his chance to thank Shepard personally and publicly.

“What you do is nothing short of amazing,” Seay told Shepard from a podium. Recalling his encounter with the program’s committee four years ago, Seay said, “I was nervous for the interview. I knew if I didn’t get the scholarship I would have a hard time getting through.”

From tiny Eads in Eastern Colorado, Seay’s graduating class in high school had only 17 members. He had no connections here and couldn’t afford college.

The scholarship panel members obviously liked what they saw. Last year Seay graduated summa cum laude with a 3.98 grade point average.

As soon as he got a job, he mailed a check for $100. He wrote a letter to Shepard, saying “I worked hard, and because of your help, I succeeded.....I will be giving back to this program for many years to come.”

Shepard came from humble beginnings. He attended Colorado College for six weeks before dropping out and joked, “I wasn’t there long enough to fail.”

Shepard, now in his 80s, went on to develop the Village Seven neighborhood and became wealthy, but he never forgot where he came from, and he always knew some determined people just need a little help and they’ll prove they’re worth the investment.

“What we’re doing is pretty unusual,” Shepard said in a bit of an understatement. “If we didn’t help them, they wouldn’t get there, but they stay with it.”

Local businessman Mike Suggs, who volunteered to help run the program and conduct interviews, said “We’re looking for students who have a job, we’re looking for students who are active in their communities. What I’ve been working on is trying to make the program long-lasting.”

Transforming 100 lives a year is a pretty big deal, especially when the effort comes from the generosity of private citizens like Shepard. If UCCS had to depend on the state for funding, it wouldn’t happen.

“There are things in life you just believe in,” Seay said, “and this program is one of them.”

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