A High School Senior Won a $40,000 Scholarship. Then She Gave It Up.


For weeks, Verda Tetteh felt qualms about making use of for the $40,000 benefit scholarship her highschool in Fitchburg, Mass., provided graduating college students.

She was sure for Harvard, which had agreed to pay her tuition and room and board. Her 4.9 G.P.A. had certified her for different scholarships that will cowl school bills.

Still, her steerage counselor urged her to go for it, telling her she had labored exhausting and deserved the award generally known as “The General Excellence Prize.”

Ms. Tetteh, 17, utilized, figuring that the scholarship, which yearly goes to 1 male and one feminine scholar chosen by a committee of academics, directors and steerage counselors, would in all probability go to another person.

Then, throughout her commencement ceremony from Fitchburg High School on June 4, the assistant principal introduced she was the winner. Ten minutes after she accepted it, she walked again to the rostrum and apologized for interrupting the ceremony.

“I am so very grateful for this, but I also know that I am not the one who needs this the most,” Ms. Tetteh stated, her voice trembling. “I would be so very grateful if administration would consider giving the General Excellence scholarship to someone who is going into community college.”

Immediately after her speech, her fellow classmates and the group on the ceremony cheered and rose in a standing ovation.

Ms. Tetteh stated she was flooded with reduction.

“When I said the words, when they came out, I knew they were the right thing to say,” she stated in an interview on Thursday. “It was the right thing to do.”

Robert Jokela, the district superintendent, stated that one week after the ceremony, he remained awed by Ms. Tetteh’s spontaneous announcement. The Boston Globe and different native information retailers reported on her speech this week, and it quickly gained consideration from national newspapers and television networks.

“She walks 30 yards back to stage. She’s walking back like she owns the place,” Mr. Jokela stated. “Everybody got it. What we just witnessed was the ultimate in generosity.”

Ms. Tetteh was eight years outdated when she moved from Ghana to Fitchburg, a metropolis of about 40,000 individuals, 50 miles west of Boston. Once a bustling metropolis of noticed, paper and cotton mills, Fitchburg began to decline in the 20th century as native house owners offered their companies to nationwide firms and the paper business’s dominance gave technique to pharmaceutical corporations and different producers.

More than 60 % of the scholars in the highschool are recognized by the State Department of Education as “economically disadvantaged,” and 67 % are described as “high needs.”

At Fitchburg High, a public faculty, 75 % of the roughly 1,300 college students are college students of colour, stated Jeremy Roche, the college principal. At least 40 % of these college students go to neighborhood school after they graduate, he stated.

Join Michael Barbaro and “The Daily” staff as they have fun the scholars and academics ending a yr like no different with a particular stay occasion. Catch up with college students from Odessa High School, which was the topic of a Times audio documentary sequence. We will even get loud with a efficiency by the drum line of Odessa’s award-winning marching band, and a particular movie star graduation speech.

“A lot are first-generation students,” Mr. Roche stated. “A lot of them are students who are the first to graduate high school in their family.”

He added, “There are many families here who work really hard and don’t make a lot of money.”

Credit…Kafui Yao Agboh

When Ms. Tetteh was 9, her mom, who supplies look after individuals with disabilities, enrolled in Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Mass.

Her mom, Rosemary Annan, was working 80 hours a week however determined to pursue an affiliate diploma in science, hoping it could assist her get a job that will assist her 4 youngsters and assist scale back her hours.

“She realized that there is a lot of opportunity if you’re educated,” Ms. Tetteh stated.

Her mom’s efforts impressed Ms. Tetteh, who got here to the United States figuring out little English however already wanting to excel at college.

She arrived at college early and stayed late to enhance her English and take part in enrichment applications. Her mom often took her to the library, and she or he grew to become an avid reader.

When she received to highschool, she helped begin a welcoming committee for immigrant college students, Mr. Roche stated.

“She was always thinking about how to make our school a better place, how do we make our community a better place,” he stated.

Her fellow seniors selected her as class speaker on the commencement. In her speech, which she gave simply earlier than she was awarded the scholarship, she spoke of the richness of her faculty’s variety and the resilience of her classmates.

“Some of us were born with the odds stacked against us, that we may not make it to today,” Ms. Tetteh stated. “I have gotten to know so many of you these past four years and there is so much potential in our class.”

She added, crying: “To every immigrant child, you can make it. To every dreamer, you can make it.”

Her resolution later to sacrifice the scholarship was overwhelming, however not surprising, Mr. Roche stated.

“I was not surprised that she did that because that’s who she is,” he stated.

Ms. Tetteh, who plans to main in chemistry and desires to turn into a physician, stated she want to begin a separate scholarship for college kids who’re immigrants and can’t afford school.

For now, she and Mr. Roche have been engaged on how one can redistribute the scholarship cash she gave up, an annual present of $10,000 that’s renewable for 4 years.

The plan to date is to award it two college students who need assistance paying for neighborhood school.

“I think that all types of different students go to community college,” Ms. Tetteh stated. “The common theme is that they want to get an education, they want to better their lives and that is something that is so commendable.”



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