Determined to become the first in his family to graduate from college, Greg Henderson now is better able to afford that education, thanks to a surprise scholarship worth a total of $40,000.
Deirdre Green, dean of the Columbus State University College of Education and Health Professions, announced the news during the Jordan Vocational High School senior class assembly Monday afternoon.
The scholarship, $10,000 per year for four years, goes to high school seniors or juniors who want to become teachers, school administrators or college professors. It is part of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education Holmes Program, which supports students from historically underrepresented backgrounds in education. In addition to the money, the scholarship includes mentorships, peer support and professional development.
Greg, 17, attended Muscogee County schools throughout his K-12 education, first at Johnson Elementary, then at Arnold Middle.
He considers his great-aunt and great-uncle Julie and Darrell Morris to be his mom and dad now. “They’re deserving of the title,” he said. “Anyone can give birth; they play the role.”
Along with two teenage sisters, Greg has been living with the Morrises since 2013 and was adopted by them in 2015. He declined to be specific, but Greg said his birth mother had “a sickness.”
Jordan graduation coach Amy Strickland encouraged Greg to apply for the scholarship. He figured he wouldn’t win it.
“I thought it was pointless,” he said. “I never thought of myself as someone who would be lucky enough to win something like this.”
Those who know Greg insist winning this scholarship had nothing to do with luck. At Jordan, he’s been involved in the Future Business Leaders of America, the math team, the National Technical Honor Society and the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. He works part-time as a waiter at the Spring Harbor continuing care retirement community.
Greg wants to become an English teacher, he said, “because English is the subject where people get to express themselves. I like to express myself.” The ultimate goal, he said, is to “make a difference.”
With a 3.0 grade-point average, Greg is eligible for the HOPE Scholarship, but the Holmes Program scholarship will pay for the college expenses HOPE doesn’t and will allow his “main focus to be school,” he said. So this takes off the pressure — “a lot of pressure,” he said.
Mr. Morris is a cemetery grounds superintendent for StoneMor Partners. Mrs. Morris is an administrator for Professional Collection Service.
Strickland called Mrs. Morris on Friday to share the news and ensure they would attend Monday’s assembly. Mrs. Morris burst into tears. Seeing his wife crying on the phone, Mr. Morris initially was alarmed but was relieved when he heard the real reason for the phone call.
“It was awesome,” he said.
Through a choked-up voice, Mrs. Morris said she is proud of Greg because of “how far he came and how far he pushed to be where he’s at today. ... He’s had a rough life, and for him to be able to do this now, it’s just a blessing from God.”
But they had to keep it a secret from Greg.
“That was hard,” Mr. Morris said with a laugh.
They did it well. Greg wasn’t suspicious as he sat in the auditorium among his 150 classmates. But when Greer introduced herself, he said, “I heard the word ‘scholarship.’ Then I heard my name, and the crowd went wild.”
The two administrators from CSU’s College of Education and Health Professions who coordinated the scholarship application process joined Greer on stage to present Greg with a super-sized cardboard check: Jean Partridge, director of Student Advising and Field Experience, and Roger Hatcher, director of the Center for Quality Teacher and Learning.
Hatcher explained why Greg was chosen to receive the scholarship.
“We felt like he was an outstanding candidate,” Hatcher said. “We felt like the scholarship would be put to good use. We felt like he could certainly use the scholarship, and he’d be a good spokesperson and ambassador for our college.”
CSU plans to award another Holmes Program scholarship to a Muscogee County School District high school student this month.
“Our intention was to start with one, but we had two very good applicants,” Greer said, “so we decided we’re going to award both of them. ... We have some great students who are interested in becoming teachers, which is great news for us.”
With continued fundraising, CSU also plans to expand the number of Holmes Program scholarships. Greer expects such scholarships to help lessen teacher shortages.
“Every school district every year has more vacant positions than they can fill from the pool,” she said.
Sheryl Green, the Muscogee County School District’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, taught Greg in her English class when he was a sophomore and dually enrolled with Columbus Technical College. She saw him persevere through the rigorous curriculum.
“Greg was so quiet, and I never could tell if he was understanding and if he was engaged,” Green said. “But then I would kneel down at his desk, and we would have a one-on-one conversation and I knew he got it.”
And when she heard Greg wants to be an English teacher, Green wasn’t surprised.
“I was thrilled and excited,” she said, “because I thought this kid will be able to reach the kind of kid that’s shy and reserved, that a lot of us more flamboyant and extravagant teachers can’t really reach. So he’s going to be fantastic.”
Mrs. Morris also made a prediction about this scholarship: “This is going to help other kids that go through what he’s been through, to show that, if you push through — no matter what you’ve been through — you can accomplish in life what you want.”
Indeed, Greg expects, when he becomes a teacher, “I’ll probably have students who come from similar backgrounds. I’ll tell them not to give up, no matter where they come from. Just keep pushing, because everyone has a chance in life to do great.”