Harvard-bound grad gives scholarship away

Wants community college student to have less stress if also working

FITCHBURG, Mass. — About five years ago, Verda Tetteh and her parents Leslie and Rosemary decided to tour Harvard University. It was a fateful decision -- one that culminated, this year, in Verda’s admission to the prestigious college.

As is the case with many students, Harvard, which has an endowment larger than some countries, is providing Verda with a financial aid package. Additionally, she’s won other academic scholarships. But last month, a guidance counselor urged her to apply for Fitchburg High School’s General Excellence scholarship.

“It’s a very prestigious scholarship that our school gives,” Tetteh said. “So I proudly applied.”

Still, she had reservations. She said she asked the counselor if it was right for her to apply for a scholarship when she already had an aid package from the college she planned to attend.

The counselor told her it was fine. That she had worked hard and basically it was a ‘nothing lost, nothing gained’ situation.

Then came graduation. Verda said she was so focused on the speech she had to give that she forgot all about the scholarship, which is worth $40,000.

“They announced me the recipient and I was shocked,” she said. “Yes, of course money always helps. But I was in a pretty stable position financially with college. So you know for someone else it would have made a bigger difference, a big difference, in somebody else’s life.”

What got Verda out of her seat and back, unannounced to the podium, was a speech by retiring assistant principal Tom DiGeronimo -- in which he advised graduates to be selfless and trustworthy -- and to put the needs of others first.

“He was reminding me of things that I live by,” Verda said. “Like always be selfless and be bold and do what you know is right.”

She thanked God for giving her the strength to get out of her seat.

“I wasn’t nervous to give away the forty thousand dollars,” Verda said. “I was nervous because I was interrupting an entire graduation ceremony. It was totally unexpected and I didn’t know how people would react.”

They reacted with an ovation -- after Verda said these words:

“I am so very grateful for this, but I also know that I am not the one who needs this the most.”

Verda asked administrators to give the scholarship to a community college student. Because she remembers how much her mother struggled to attend classes, work long hours at her job and take care of the family when they moved here from Ghana.

Verda’s parents reacted with a sense of relief.

And at that moment when she did that I said my baby’s ready to be in the world on her own,” said Mom Rosemary Annan. “I felt like she’s ready to think for herself... and I’m ready to let her go.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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