A Massachusetts teen, Verda Tetteh, 17, donated her $40,000 scholarship to community college students. She was awarded the scholarship known as “The General Excellence Prize.” during her graduation ceremony in Fitchburg, Mass. Moments later, she returned it and said it should go to a student who needed it more. During her speech, the Harvard-bound teen thanked donors for the scholarship, but said she knows she’s “not the one who needs this the most.”
Ten minutes after she accepted it, she walked back to the podium 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 said, her voice trembling. “Knowing my mom went to community college, and how much that was helpful, I would be so very grateful if the administration would consider giving the General Excellence scholarship to someone who is going into community college.”
She received a standing ovation from the audience, but said she didn’t make this sacrifice for the accolades — it was to honor her mother and students who also choose to attend community college. Tetteh’s mom enrolled in community college at age 39, and Tetteh said she is “in awe of her,” adding, “I think that’s something that’s very difficult to do. But she knew she wanted to improve her life and improve the lives of her children.”
Tetteh applied for the scholarship at the urging of her guidance counselor who told her to go for it because she’d worked hard. Every year the award goes to one male and one female student selected by a committee of teachers, administrators and guidance counselors. She figured it would probably go to someone else. Then, during her graduation ceremony from Fitchburg High School on June 4, the assistant principal announced she was the winner.
She moved to the U.S. from Ghana when she was 8 years old and recently graduated with a 4.9 G.P.A. Harvard had agreed to pay her tuition and room and board. Her hard work has also qualified her for other scholarships that would cover college expenses. Robert Jokela, the district superintendent, said that he remains awed by Ms. Tetteh’s spontaneous announcement.
Jeremy Roche, the school principal said that at least 40 percent of the students at Fitchburg High School go to community college when they graduate. “A lot are first-generation students,” Mr. Roche said. “A lot of them are students who are the first to graduate high school in their family. There are many families here who work really hard and don’t make a lot of money.”