Three Hamilton County students have won the Annenberg scholarship in previous years: Alexandria Oviatt from Red Bank High School and Matthew Heinichen from Signal Mountain Middle High School won the scholarships in 2011 while another Red Bank High student, Brooke Reed, was awarded the scholarship in 2010.
It might be Soddy-Daisy's worst-kept secret.
The news that two high school juniors were selected for one of the nation's most prestigious and valuable scholarships spread fast. After all, it marked the first time ever that two winners have been chosen from the same school.
Soddy-Daisy High School's Amanda Stewart and Zac Egger formally will celebrate today their awards of the Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship, each worth up to $250,000. The scholarship is comprehensive, covering books, tuition, food, transportation, a living stipend and even pre-college visits. The pair are among 10 students nationally to be selected.
Ten scholarships to high school juniors were awarded this year. Another five went to visual/performing artists and 10 went to schools for various needs.
"They're really going to be able to enjoy the college experience without looking over their shoulders worrying if there's enough money," said counselor Nancy Zuber.
But more important, the award means that opportunities are nearly endless: The pair can now attend any school to which they can gain admittance. The Annenberg scholarship is aimed at boosting prospects for low-income, high-achieving students, allowing them to attend more selective schools than they might otherwise be able to afford.
"It's going to change their lives," Zuber said. "It's going to change everything, not just for them, but for their children and grandchildren."
Annenberg gives scholarships to students in select cities. Locally, the Public Education Foundation makes the scholarship available. Its college advisors, together with school staff and faculty, help identify and nominate eligible students. After the award, advisors mentor scholarship winners throughout the college application and decision process.
Instead of shopping state colleges, the two are now exploring schools like MIT and Columbia.
Egger said the award was a relief, given the ever-rising costs of college.
"You kind of worry with all these people not being able to pay for college and going into huge debt," he said.
Egger's mother works in an elementary school cafeteria and started screaming there when he phoned her with the news. Word of the scholarship spread fast among families of both students, though the official announcement was planned today.
"They told everyone," Stewart said. "They're not supposed to, but everyone knows."
Both Egger and Stewart say the honor is a big win for Soddy-Daisy High. It's the first time -- and likely the last time -- that two students have won from the same school in the same year. Annenberg is discontinuing the scholarship after this year.
But school leaders are quick to put the spotlight on the students. Counselors say the students are both well liked by their peers, volunteer regularly and are quick to help those in need. They paint pictures of resilient kids who have excelled academically despite personal challenges in their lives.
"I just think about what it means for them," said Cindy Adamz, college and career adviser. "They could not afford to go to some of the schools they're looking at now without this."
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at 423-757-6249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.