Positively Tennessee: Fulton High School friends excel in Project GRAD program

Positively Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — There’s a powerful message behind our annual Project GRAD Laptop Telethon coming up on Wednesday (July 22).

If you support this effort, you’re telling Knoxville’s inner-city students who are working so hard to graduate that you believe in them and want to invest in their future.

Fulton High School seniors Sharon Sharp and Arianna Smith are among them.

Sharon and Arianna have been friends since middle school. Both have excelled in the Project GRAD program. Both are in the top 10 of their class with above a 4.0 GPA. Both were raised by single moms. We met with them and their mothers at Fulton High School, witnessing some proud moments.

“This will be the first in my immediate family to graduate college,” Arendia Mitchell, Arianna’s aunt who raised her, said. “And I’m saying graduate because she is going to graduate.”

“I’m thinking about (a) business degree now and law school later,” Arianna said. “I heard it’s easier to get into law school without a pre-law degree so I’m thinking business; make it stretch further.”

Charissa Fetters is Sharon’s mother.

“I work a lot of hours so Sharon has really done this on her own a lot,” Fetters said. “I mean, she wants more than I have, and that’s what I want her to do. I want her to be able to stand tall and have her own life and not struggle and work a lot of hours.”

“I just wanted to be different,” Sharon told us. “I’ve always wanted to be a leader and make a difference in people’s lives.”

The group has gotten to know Project Grad staff well over the years. Kensey Zimmerman is a beloved teacher and mentor. She was a Project Grad scholar who went on to earn a master’s degree and is now giving back at her alma mater.

“Because of my experience, getting to know what that’s like, it’s really helped even in conversations with students,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve been there, I know what it’s like, and to continue to grow opportunities and give students more opportunities than I had is a fabulous thing.”

Sharon and Arianna were among a group of students surprised by Vol cheerleaders and staff last fall, who came to Fulton to announce they had been accepted to the University of Tennessee.

“We were all like, ‘What?’ and they called our names and we couldn’t stop crying,” Arianna said.

When we told Arianna and Sharon about the laptop telethon and community support for it, the tears started flowing again.

“Thank you,” Arianna said, wiping a tear. “It means a lot to a lot of people like me. I know I’m not the only one that is going to UT and doesn’t have enough money for everything, so it’s just, we really appreciate it.”

“I want to tell the community thank you because you do have hardworking students out there and underpaid parents that really can’t afford what they’re doing for her,” Arendia said.

“I’m just so thankful that not only I get a laptop but my peers, maybe people I don’t talk to all the time, because I know here people struggle financially at Fulton and Austin East,” Sharon said.

“Thank you,” Charissa said simply and powerfully. “I’m very thankful. Very, very thankful.”

WATE 6 On Your Side’s third annual Project GRAD Laptop Telethon is Wednesday, July 22. You’ll be able to call in to donate that day, or you can donate anytime online at projectgradknoxville.org.

(This story was done before masks were recommended for all.)


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