Project GRAD celebrates 35 May graduates

Bridget WallerInside 640, Our Town Teens

Project GRAD Knoxville and a restricted number of family members celebrated 2020 college graduates with a festive “social-distanced” car parade on Saturday. The parade was held in the parking lot of Pellissippi State Community College’s Magnolia Avenue campus.


The students, all former Austin-East and Fulton high school Project GRAD scholars, are graduating from college this May. Thirty-five GRAD scholars are receiving their post-secondary diplomas; 20 participated in the parade. The scholars are graduating from variety of schools, including Pellissippi State, Austin Peay University, Berea, Carson-Newman, East Tennessee State, Johnson University, Lincoln Memorial University, Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Knoxville, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Tech, University of Indianapolis, the University of Tennessee, UT-Martin Pharmacy School, Lee University and Barry University.

Ronni Chandler, executive director/CEO of Project GRAD Knoxville, celebrates her 2020 college grads.

“Graduating from higher education is a big deal and we wanted our scholars to know that even a global pandemic wouldn’t suppress how very proud we are of each one,” said Ronni Chandler, Project GRAD Knoxville’s executive director.

“The car parade was a great way for us to come together to celebrate our scholars’ post-secondary accomplishments and adhere to all the important COVID-19 safety guidelines.” The idea for the parade was presented by the Project GRAD Knoxville College Advisory Board, a team of postsecondary scholars who advise GRAD’s postsecondary success coaches.

Pellissippi State was an ideal setting for the celebration because all of the scholars actually got their first taste of the college experience by attending Project GRAD’s Summer Institute at Pellissippi while they were sophomores or juniors in high school. Pellissippi State started its Summer Institute experience for Project GRAD scholars in 2002, the first summer after GRAD started in Knoxville in 2001. The University of Tennessee joined Pellissippi State in offering the Summer Institute college experience in 2003 and TCAT Knoxville in 2016.

“These students and their families are celebrating a great accomplishment, one that deserves to be recognized,” said Pellissippi State President Anthony Wise. “Education is a lifelong process. These Project GRAD scholars have a jump start on a promising future because they have finished a college degree.”

Bridget Correll Waller owns BCW Business Solutions, an affiliate of SRW & Associates.

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