High school senior Verda Tetteh shocked everyone in her graduation ceremony when she asked her school to give away her $40,000 scholarship to a student who needed it more.
Verda could have added the funds to her collection of scholarships and financial aid to pay for her Harvard education, but she knew that it would better serve its purpose in the hands of someone else.
The 17-year-old addressed the crowd at Fitchburg High School and spoke about resilience at the start of their June 4 graduation ceremony. During her speech, she didn’t know yet that she had been chosen as one of the two recipients of the school’s General Excellence Award.
“And I say resilient because if we are being honest with ourselves, some of us were born with the odds stacked against us that we may not make it to today,” she said in her impromptu message.
“And I say resilient because all of us, teachers, faculty, and students alike were given a great challenge when the pandemic hit. But we were and we are resilient, and we did it.”
After taking her seat, the school’s assistant principal declared the two winners of the $40,000 scholarship. Verda was shocked to hear her name being announced.
She had applied for it a month ago but knew that many other amazing students submitted their applications. So, she didn’t expect to get it.
Verda had already received plenty of scholarships and financial aid from Harvard. And as she listened to the assistant principal talk about being “selfless” and “bold,” she realized that that was the perfect time to embody those traits.
“It is such a great honor, but I also know that I am not the most in need of it,” Verda said on stage.
She also remembered her mother, Rosemary, who graduated from a community college at 47. She understood how far that money would go in funding an education there. So during the ceremony, she asked administrators if they could consider offering the $40,000 scholarship to a community college student.
Verda said she doesn’t regret her decision one bit.
“When I initially gave it away, I felt relieved actually. I was very happy God had given me the strength to do the right thing and reflecting back on that now, I still stand by my decision,” she said.
Her parents also didn’t know that she would be receiving the scholarship until it was announced during the graduation ceremony. Her mom cheered and gave her a standing ovation after she made her plea to the administrators.
Rosemary said that her daughter’s decision further strengthened her belief that she was ready for independence.
“I just knew she’s ready for me to let her be on her own,” the proud mother said. “I’m not afraid, and I’m not sad about it that someone’s going to get some good help. If I had gotten that help, I would have been thrilled.”
Verda has met with Principal Jeremy Roche to discuss how the scholarship will be reallocated. The plan is to split it into multiple gifts that will be given over the next four years. Starting this year, two students from the graduating class who will be attending community college will receive $5,000 each.
Here’s Verda’s advice to the incoming high school students:
“You can make a change in every community because you know that the world is always improving, so keep an eye open for what you can do and then be bold and be courageous, and work hard towards that change,” she said.
Verda plans to study chemistry on a pre-med track at Harvard. With a character like that, we’re confident that she will do many great things for her community.
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