A Harvard-bound Fitchburg High School student turned down a $40,000 scholarship during her graduation ceremony, imploring the high school to instead give the money to someone who needs help paying for community college.
Verda Tetteh, who had accepted Fitchburg High’s General Excellence award during the event June 4, walked up to the lectern to announce her change of heart after hearing the school’s assistant principal speak about being selfless and doing the right thing.
“I am so very grateful for this, but I also know that I am not the one who needs this the most,” Tetteh, who had previously addressed her fellow graduates as class speaker, said onstage.
“Knowing my mom went to community college, and how much that was helpful, I would be so very grateful if administration would consider giving the … scholarship to someone who is going to community college.”
As she walked off, the class gave Tetteh a standing ovation. She said in an interview that she felt an immediate sense of relief when she reached her seat.
Tetteh credited her Christian faith, as well as the example of her mother, who was raised in Ghana and brought Tetteh to the United States as a child, for inspiring her decision. She said her mother taught her the value of education by obtaining her bachelor’s degree at the age of 47.
Another factor, Tetteh said, was the knowledge that she already had received a significant amount of help with the cost of attending Harvard — where she plans to study chemistry with a pre-med track. She wanted other students to be able to continue their education without worrying about money so much.
Last year, state Senator Dean A. Tran awarded Tetteh with the Christian A. Herter Memorial Scholarship, which covers up to half of students’ calculated need at any US college of their choice, according to Tran’s Facebook page. Harvard’s financial aid program, which covers 100 percent of demonstrated need, also made her feel secure in her decision, Tetteh said.
Considered the most prestigious honor for a graduating Fitchburg senior, the General Excellence award is accompanied by the $10,000 George K Progin Scholarship, which is renewable for four years.
Tetteh will meet with Fitchburg High’s principal, Jeremy Roche, to discuss re-awarding the scholarship and possibly splitting it among multiple students, she said.
Christine Mui can be reached at email@example.com.