Following the successful launch of the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise scholarship program in 2014, the eighth group of Rusk High School seniors is preparing to join the TJC freshman class of 2021.
The Rusk TJC Citizens Promise, one of the earliest Promise programs in the United States and the first such initiative in Texas, covers up to $4,000 per year for two years at TJC. In addition to graduating in the top half of their class with a minimum 2.5 GPA, qualifying students must also reside in Rusk ISD and must have attended Rusk High School for grades 11 and 12.
The 61 eligible Rusk seniors were introduced during a special ceremony Tuesday morning, in the RHS auditorium. The annual event is usually attended by the entire student body; however, due to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines requiring physical distancing, only the seniors and their parents attended this year, and the program was broadcast across campus via the YouTube video-sharing platform.
This year’s eligible students are: Emma Abernathy, Preston Arnold, Dyllan Bentley, Jebidiah Besson, Captain Blankinship, Carrie Boykin, Gabriel Bradshaw, Riley Brooks, De’andre Ceasar, Rosemary Chambers, Kenneth Chhuon, Connor Day, Cody Debord, Makayla Dowling, Heather Duke, Tara Emerson, Emily Etheridge, Emille Garner, Landon Gates, Lane Gilchrest, Ethan Givens, Erika Gonzalez Alonso, Mya Gunter, Addi Holley, Camdon Hudnall, Jett Jenkins, Baileigh Jones, Makayla Jones, Ty Keith, Bryce Lenard, Camryn Lyles, Callie Lynn, Dalton Martin, Abigail McCalister, Kyleigh McClure, Delaney Monkress, Miranda Morin, Destiny Morris, Kedacia Nelson, Johanna Ontiveros, Bradley Parker, Austin Patterson, Abbie Pepin, Joseph Pharis, Sum’r Rocka, Elijah Russell, Madison Stanford, Joshua Szymborski, Dustin Taylor, Kavesdeon Tilley, Evelynn Truelock, Kris Vandever, Gabriella Vega, Grace Veitch, Kaleb Ward, Landen Weaver, Kelsey White, Makala Willems, Tanisha Williams, Ethan Womack and Macy Woodruff.
Megan Cumbee Burns, TJC’s manager of scholarships and the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise, who is also a 2006 Rusk High School graduate, keeps in contact with Promise scholars throughout their senior year at RHS and holds a series of workshops and meetings especially for the students and their parents, to ease their transition from high school to TJC.
The Rusk TJC Citizens Promise program is a partnership between TJC, the TJC Foundation, Rusk ISD, Citizens 1st Bank and the Perkins Family Foundation.
How and why the Rusk Promise program began
Margaret Perkins, of Citizens 1st Bank and the Perkins Family Foundation, explained the program’s origin and development.
“We wanted to create a scholarship that would benefit the greatest number of students and give them the greatest quality education,” she said, “and we wanted students to be able to take whatever path they wanted, whether it was into a technical field or two years of preparation before going on to a four-year college and completing their degree in another discipline. We wanted it all, and our goals were pretty simple; but there was not a Promise program in Texas for us to look to and get guidelines from.”
She said the Rusk Promise took shape after she and other Rusk Promise organizers attended a conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to gather information from other states’ Promise programs, and further studied other scholarship programs in Texas.
“We really tailor-made this program to fit the quality students we knew we had, who simply deserved an opportunity to pursue their dreams in the area that they wished,” she said. “Tyler Junior College already had an [almost 90-year] reputation of excellence that was recognized state and nationwide; and we knew in recent years how they had built on that long reputation and continued improving the campus physically and through their online presence. They had kept up and kept adapting to students in every area of life. That had great appeal.”
She encouraged the students to seize the opportunities the Rusk Promise affords for them and their community.
“We know that a more highly skilled workforce will benefit each of your lives, your family, our community and the state of Texas,” she said. “And by being the eighth Promise program class, you have amazing benefit. You don’t just have a relative or friend who has done well scholastically, as a community leader, as a campus-involved leader — you have previous classes full of people that the TJC faculty, administration and campus know about and admire. A wonderful reputation has already been paved for you.”
A challenge for the future
TJC President Dr. Juan E. Mejia challenged the students to dream big; and he vowed that TJC would help them achieve, and even exceed, their goals.
“Whatever you want to do, we want you to dream it bigger,” Mejia said. “Whatever it is you want to achieve, we want you to stretch that. We believe in you; therefore, if you were thinking of being a teacher, we want you to be among the best educators anywhere, like the ones who exist at this wonderful school district.”
He continued, “We want to see the next principals, superintendents, and college and university presidents, be alumni of this Promise program. Whatever profession you choose, make everyone proud and be among the best; and parents and students from Rusk, we are here with you.”
For more information on the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise, go to TJC.edu/RuskPromise.