The day was epic. Middle College High School seniors were in for the biggest surprise of their lives.
All 86 seniors were awarded scholarships from Tennessee State University.
Principal Kimberly Eason called a regular assembly under the guise of parents of seniors being invited to “just hear more about Tennessee State.”
“Any time someone presents an opportunity for my students, I take it,” said Eason. “But when Tennessee State reached out to give scholarships to our seniors, we never dreamed the offer would be extended to every, single senior.”
Eason wanted to surprise the 86 graduating seniors. So she didn’t let on that the office staff was holding a wonderful secret.
Everyone is at the assembly: undergrads, seniors, parents, and Middle College teachers and staff.
The TSU representative announced scholarships are being awarded to deserving seniors. He did not say how many scholarships and he did not list the criteria for choosing the recipients.
“I wanted to make the event as big as possible. So TSU Assistant Director of Admissions William Smith just starts calling the names of scholarship recipients,” said Eason. “I had asked everyone who was called to come down and stand, because I wanted all of our seniors to have that walk of honor.”
And they just kept coming. Name after name is randomly called.
Seniors are shouting, dancing, jumping, and screaming as each name gets called, and they run down to the front. Parents are going crazy, too.
The happy pandemonium mounts to a deafening crescendo, and as the last names are called, everyone now realizes that the entire class has received a scholarship to TSU, located in Nashville.
Everyone is cheering. The undergrads almost are as excited as the seniors. All were caught up in the joyous, life-changing moment.
“It was great,” said Eason. “Memphis has some amazing students. My school is a snapshot of that. We hear so much about the learning gap, the achievement gap.
“Middle College High School is the only Reward School in Shelby County to maintain its high student achievement at Reward School level.
“Even through the pandemic, our students grew and achieved. That is something we are very proud of.”
Reward Schools generally are those that are improving in terms of achievement and growth for both all students and student groups. These schools are identified annually.
“We grew as a team—parents, teachers, and students,” said Eason. “And we ground it out together. Twenty-nine percent of our students passed advanced placement tests. If you walk into a classroom, you will see students teaching.
“Our teachers are not gatekeepers of knowledge. They are facilitators. That makes a tremendous difference.”
Seniors at Middle College are making some incredible decisions, now that the college costs are no longer an issue.
“I want to be a board-certified, world-renowned trauma surgeon,” said senior class President Nyla Battles. “I have lots of options: Tennessee State, of course; FAMU; Clark-Atlanta; Emory; and Vanderbilt. I want the Ivy League education, but I don’t want to miss the cultural enrichment of an HBCU. I’m still weighing all my options.”
Battles said when she completes her education, she will return to Memphis to establish her practice.
Student body President Evan Hayes will pursue broadcast journalism as a career.
“I have always wanted to attend a historically Black college,” said Hayes. “I play basketball and run track. In the short term, I would like to play sports in college. I am looking at several schools, including: TSU, North Carolina, Clark-Atlanta.
“Wherever I go, I want to study communications. I hope to get a job somewhere broadcasting television news.”
So how did Tennessee State University end up awarding every senior a scholarship? Eason said she got a call from Smith who said: ‘I want to give scholarships to your seniors.’
“I said, ‘Which seniors?’ Eason said. “Mr. Smith said I will offer a full ride to every senior with a 3.75 grade point average. I said, ‘There are 63.’ He then told me, ‘I will give a full ride to every senior with a 3.0 grade point average. I said, ‘That’s everyone, except three.’ He said he would also offer those three students a partial scholarship.”
TSU tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates generally is about $8,000 a year.
Middle College High School has recently been in local sports news because they remain undefeated this football season.
“We are proud of all that our students achieve,” said Eason. “Middle College High School at Christian Brothers University offers dual enrollment to the school and to CBU.
“Our students earn college credits while still in high school. Some of our teachers have been approved as adjunct professors, and by the 11th grade, students walk over to take classes on CBU campus. It gives them a sense of what college is going to be like.”
Graduating seniors leave with “30-40, 50-upwards, transferable college credits” at no cost to them, according to Eason. They can “shave off a year of college in high school.”
Students at Middle College can begin earning college credits in the 9th grade.
(This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender.)