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The University of Tennessee has given an offer of honorary admission and a full-ride scholarship to a fourth-grader after he was bullied for wearing a homemade T-shirt with the university’s logo on it. His teacher made a Facebook post about the incident to see if the university would send him an official T-shirt, as the reason for his homemade one was that he wasn’t able to find one in time for his school’s college colors day. UT responded first by sending the entire class a box full of university swag with hand-drawn copies of the boy’s version of their logo pinned to them.
9/13/19 - My student has definitely felt the love and support from people all over the world. It has been such an...Posted by Laura Snyder on Wednesday, September 4, 2019
Here’s the full story from the student’s teacher:
9/6/19 – UT really outdid themselves🧡!! I was so excited to surprise my student today!! I’m not even sure I can put into words his reaction. It was so heartwarming. My student was so amazed at all the goodies in the box. He proudly put on the jersey and one of the many hats in the box. All who saw had either goosebumps or tears while we explained that he had inspired and touched the lives of so many people. When I told him that his design was being made into a real shirt and people wanted to wear it, his jaw dropped. He had a big smile on his face, walked taller, and I could tell his confidence grew today! Thank you to the UT Nation for that!! 🧡🧡🧡
When we brought the box upstairs to share with the rest of my class they were surprised as well!! I had a lot of fun pulling each item out and showing it to them. They were really impressed with the notes that were included as well! Then the fun part set in.. my student got to pass out UT swag to his classmates. They were ecstatic!! They immediately put on the bracelets and asked if they could fill up the water bottles. Then they went to our class sink and soaked the cooling towels to put around their necks. My students even enjoyed using their new pens to complete their writing quiz! While the kids were filling water bottles and waiting to water down their towels, it made this teacher so proud to see the kids congratulating my student. High fives, hugs, pats on the back could be seen from the kids. This experience is uniting my class even more than I could have imagined, and it was truly amazing to witness!! The Vols spirit was definitely felt In my classroom today! THANK YOU so much so all who have made this such a positive experience for my student, and also showing the rest of my class what it’s like to come together and be kind. Personally, I’m looking forward to wearing the shirt he designed. It’ll be the one and only piece of orange clothing that this Seminoles fan will ever wear! ❤️💛 & 🧡!!
9/5/19 at 9:15pm – I don’t even know where to begin. I am so incredibly amazed at the outpouring of love and support for my student!! So many people have reached out over the last 24 hours and I have truly lost track. I am trying very hard to keep up! Please forgive me if I don’t answer right away. I want to say a huge THANK YOU to each and everyone of you who took the time to read and share the post. Because of this, my student will be receiving an awesome care package from the University of Tennessee tomorrow morning!🧡 I’m so excited to share this with him (he doesn’t know about any of this yet)!! Out of respect for my student and his family, I will not be posting a picture of him, but I will post a picture of everything he receives and will let you know about his reaction. I hope everyone understands 🤞🏻. I will never be able to tag everyone who made this possible, but please know that I am deeply grateful to each of you. You all have taken this above and beyond what I had ever imagined. The Vols fan base has really impressed this Noles fan with their kindness. I am working to read through all of the comments and will share a few of them with my student each day. By the looks of it, he will have enough to hear every day for the rest of this school year. That’s so awesome to me!!
He is definitely a Vols fan, and the Vols Nation has made sure he will be set for college colors day for quite some time! 🧡🧡🧡
Update: I’m so amazed, humbled, and a little bit overwhelmed at the response to this post! So many people have reached out, and I’m really looking forward to sharing this with him!!! Thank you all so much for your kind words of support and encouragement for my student!!! 🧡
Last week, my elementary school participated in college colors day. When I told my students about this day a week before, this particular child came to me and told me that he wanted to wear a University of Tennessee shirt, but he didn’t have one. We discussed that he could wear an orange shirt to show his spirit. He told me every day leading up to it that he had an orange shirt that he was going to wear. So when the day finally arrived, he was SO EXCITED to show me his shirt. I was impressed that he took it one step further to make his own label. After lunch, he came back to my room, put his head on on his desk and was crying. Some girls at the lunch table next to his (who didn’t even participate in college colors day) had made fun of his sign that he had attached to his shirt. He was DEVASTATED. I know kids can be cruel, I am aware that it’s not the fanciest sign, BUT this kid used the resources he had available to him to participate in a spirit day (one that I celebrated all week: Go Noles)! I plan to get him a University of Tennessee shirt, but was wondering if anyone has any connections to the University of Tennessee. I wanted to make it a little extra special for him. If anyone has any contacts that they’d be willing to share, please let me know. Thanks!
The university went on to publish a statement announcing the scholarship, as well as the fact that they will now be manufacturing T-shirts with the boy’s design on it and donating the profits to anti-bullying charity Stomp Out Bullying.
Many people praised the university’s actions, with Twitter user @worriedgrandma7 saying, “a wonderful piece of humanity within this cold country.”
a wonderful peace of humanity within this cold country— kamika (@worriedgrandma7) September 13, 2019
That is one of the most awesome things I've ever heard of. There has got to be a shortage of cloud 9s as that kid has 'em all. WOW!— Matt Drake (@CVN70Texan) September 13, 2019
Extremely proud of that young gentleman who made the shirt and also proud of University of Tennessee— T (@T31590364) September 13, 2019
Love it! I knew they'd step up.— Teresa U (@TeresaU98613187) September 13, 2019
Some are more cynical however, commenting on the amount of good press the university is getting out of it.
UT is getting years of positive publicity from this.— David M. Russell (@pragmaticNYC) September 13, 2019
Suspicious.— Sandra (@SRavkin) September 13, 2019
Cool, cool. Now, put the rest of the money you make off of his design in a fund for him and his family.— April (@BrodieBC) September 13, 2019
As well using the story to highlight the ruinously expensive college tuition fees across America.
If a University can hand out a 4-year full ride scholarship so easily to a 4th grader, that tells you how overpriced and how much money these colleges are and are making. #studentdebt— Thomas Vee (@ThomasVee1) September 13, 2019
Going viral is one way to finish college debt-free. Would love some other ideas!— Public School Teacher (@off_public) September 13, 2019
another, a stranger. But no one is offering my kid a scholarship. Don’t want to take away what this boy has received, but I’m disheartened that so many other deserving children aren’t even getting a fraction of this. /end— jl (@lilyjareth2001) September 13, 2019
Though in the interest of fairness, one Twitter user, @Dreg_Society, pointed out that the University of Tennessee does offer free tuition for people earning under $50,000, with room and board thrown in for those earning under $40,000 (if only more universities did the same).
Free tuition, fees, room and board for those that earn $40,000 or lesshttps://t.co/gVABz2rhYU— Citizen (@Dreg_Society) September 13, 2019
People are also commenting on the disparity between how this student and Black children in similar situations are rewarded. Journalist George M. Johnson compared it to the case of Jaylin Clyburn, a Black sixth-grader whose lawn-mowing business, which he started to raise money for his eventual college fees, came to national prominence only weeks ago. Far from receiving a scholarship, however, Clyburn was initially given only a new lawnmower and some signed memorabilia by the Carolina Panthers. While the Panthers’ owner has now made a “huge” contribution to Clyburn’s college fund, this is at least in part a response to the backlash over the fact that his early gifts were tools for his business, seeming to justify the idea that a twelve-year-old child should have to spend all his free time working in order to afford an education.
The stories of these two boys, one white and one Black, wanting to go to college are literally days apart.— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) September 13, 2019
It just never ceases to amaze me how society will treat a white child’s plight vs a Black ones.
One literally got a full ride to college, the other told “keep laboring”
My 14-year-old made a similar point when I told him this story. Printing a t-shirt based on his homemade design: Awesome. Offering him a free ride more than a decade from now: Nah. Maybe put a big cut of the T-shirt proceeds into a college fund for him.— Brian Smith (@BrianLivesInOH) September 13, 2019
That and b/c they see Black ppl, as laborers; not scholars, business leaders, scientists etc.— ILovetoVacation (@ilovetovacation) September 13, 2019
Also: white people aren’t rabid with rage & complaining about this boy being given things for free & not being taught the value of hard work, unlike this emphasis with the 12-year old Black boy who was already laboring in the elements to pay for college.— Shango (@nagghammadi) September 13, 2019
Why didn't they give him a tshirt printing machine so he can make shirts and sell them so he can EARN his way to college like the panthers did https://t.co/ev4f4XBGcF— Doroteo Arango (@AlmanzaJm) September 13, 2019
What’s that? Are we talking about white privilege?— BISEXUAL SPIDEY (@spider_him) September 13, 2019
Meanwhile people defended the @Panthers giving a 12 year old kid mowing lawns to save for college a fucking new lawnmower and signed football by saying "no handouts"— The 4th Hoodkage (@TokenBK1) September 13, 2019
Meanwhile the black kid who mowed lawns to save up just got.... A lawnmower— ORDAAAR!!! (@UnmitagatedGall) September 13, 2019
All this little shit did was staple a piece of paper to his shirt.
It's both funny and sad.
While the University of Tennessee’s actions are certainly great for the boy who received the scholarship, they’ve highlighted far greater problems with America’s entire system of higher education.
Just put him in a stupid shirt of the college of your choice, we have the power people lets abuse it— Edge (@_TEdge_) September 13, 2019
Siobhan Ball is a historian, archivist, and journalist. She also writes for Autostraddle and bi.org