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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Governor Bill Lee walks through the halls of Cleveland High School during his visit on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Tenn.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday signed a ceremonial check earmarking $750,000 in federal coronavirus funds to a program that helps high school students who face barriers to graduation.

At Cleveland High School, Lee spoke to students in the Jobs for Tennessee Graduates or JTG program, telling them that choices they make over the next few years will impact them over the following 50.

Lee said there are a lot of older people who wished they "could go back and make different choices. We want to give you more of those choices."

JTG is aimed at helping guide students toward post-secondary education, a career and a productive adulthood. The effort focuses on providing students with job interview and resume editing skills, leadership, financial responsibility, dress etiquette and community service.

Lee, one of 13 governors on the national Jobs for America's Graduates board, earmarked $750,000 in Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund money for the Tennessee program for 2020-21. The federal coronavirus relief measure authorized governors to determine educational uses for the funds.

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Bill Lee in Cleveland

"The future of our state depends on students in our schools today," the Republican governor said. "I believe strongly in JTG."

Autumn O'Bryan, the high school's principal, said the jobs program is in its second year there and 35 students are enrolled.

"We want to try to clear a path" for students, she said.

Launched in 1981 under then-Gov. Lamar Alexander, Jobs for Tennessee Graduates is in 23 schools in 16 counties in the state.

John Dwyer, JTG president and CEO, said the 2020 class had a 94% graduation rate, with its students earning more than $6 million in post-secondary education opportunities.

At the same time, one-third of JTG students go into full-time employment, he said.

Lee was asked by program student Faith Saddler if he had any advice for the seniors. Lee told more than a half dozen JTG students that they're at "a very unusual spot in life."

"You're about to be adults. You get to make decisions about your own life — good or bad," the governor said, noting that what they do over the next few years will play a large part in charting the course of their lives for the next 50 years.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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