Annual event to raise scholarship dollars for students with real needs
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Lauren Wiggins says she learned a life lesson in high school that continues to follow her even today. That lesson: people aren’t concerned about your excuses. The Atlanta native recalls a high school teacher telling her, at age 14, that she displayed the actions of a criminal because she skipped classes or arrived late. Wiggins says her explanations fell on deaf ears.
“Whenever I was late or missed class, I would let the teachers know I had been up all night taking care of my brothers or in the emergency room with them,” explains Wiggins. “I have a 19-year-old brother who is severely disabled, and a 15-year-old brother who is diagnosed with Autism and ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder]. I’m the oldest of three, and I have been changing diapers since I was five years old.”
Wiggins says her oldest brother has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and a cerebral shunt.
“My brother has the mind of a six-month-old. His body has continued to grow since birth, but his brain hasn’t. At times all I could do was just hold him when he cried. He’s unable to communicate and is completely immobile. My choice was easy in high school, family is first.”
Today, the 21-year-old Wiggins is a rising senior at Tennessee State University with a 3.8 GPA as a Public Health major. She received a full music scholarship to TSU following high school. However, after her sophomore year, she had to make another tough decision regarding her education and family. Wiggins decided to give up the scholarship.
“Dropping out [of college] was never an option, but I was needed at home. This conflicted with my commitment to the marching band and wind ensemble. I enjoyed being in the band, but my parents are older and needed help taking care of my brother. I had to rush home several times when my mom called and said her back was out from getting him in and out of bed or his wheelchair.”
Wiggins knew giving up the scholarship meant her family would have to struggle to pay tuition, but she was determined to stay at TSU. The University has been a part of her family for three generations. Through persistence, she found out about the TSU Foundation and was awarded a scholarship that covered nearly all her expenses for the upcoming fall semester.
“This scholarship has helped immensely, and heightened my desire to give back to Tennessee State, for other students who deserve a second chance.”
On Friday, Sept. 26, Tennessee State will hold its annual scholarship gala honoring long-time educators Drs. McDonald and Jamye Williams. Both have ties to some of TSU’s most notable alumni, including Oprah Winfrey. The event will also honor alumnus and former football player Claude Humphrey, one of the newest members inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dr. Sharon Peters, Gala co-chairman, says while the event will honor these individuals, the primary mission is to raise funds to help students who need money to stay at the University. Students like Wiggins are one of many examples why the gala is so important.
“The gala provides the needed support for students to enroll at the University who may not otherwise have the funds to attend or who may fall short financially,” adds Peters, also director for TSU’s Community College Initiative Program. “A majority of our students need financial aid and without the help of many of our donors, these students would not have the opportunity to attend college.”
This will be TSU President Glenda Glover’s second scholarship gala while serving as the leader of one of the nation’s top HBCUs. Last year’s event had record attendance. According to University officials, more than 600 students were helped with $1.7 million worth of scholarships during the 2013-14 academic year. This represented a 76 percent increase in donations from the previous year and the University was able to award up to $965,000 in private scholarships.
“I am confident that our donors- employees, alumni, corporate partners, and friends of the University will continue to give and partner with us for this year’s scholarship gala,” says President Glover. “We have students with real needs, and the Foundation, along with the Office of Student Enrollment, has done a tremendous job in matching students with dollars. Every dollar counts and will make a difference in a student’s life. It begins with them receiving a quality education at Tennessee State.”
Wiggins says that’s exactly what she’s receiving at TSU – a quality education that has afforded her the opportunity to have internships with environmental watchdog Green Peace and the Centers for Disease Control. She beams with pride when asked what the future holds.
“I’ve lived my life around my brother’s health and wouldn’t change one single thing. I am happy to be alive and not a burden on my parents. I believe my future is bright and I owe it to my future alma mater TSU.”
Following graduation, Wiggins has her eyes set on Yale University where she plans on obtaining master’s degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science. Eventually, she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology.
Call 615.963.5481 or visit www.tnstate.edu/scholarshipgala for more information on how you can help students like Lauren Wiggins through the 2014 Scholarship Gala. The gala takes place at Music City Center and tickets are available now to purchase.
Department of Media Relations
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About Tennessee State University
With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 42 undergraduate, 24 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.