By LAUREN MCDONALD firstname.lastname@example.org
More than a decade ago, fourth-grader Brittany Mitchell was given a promise — if she would pursue higher education, she would receive support from that moment on in reaching that goal.
Tonight, Mitchell will walk across the graduation stage and receive her degree from College of Coastal Georgia, bringing a triumphant end to her journey as a Greensboro Dreamer.
Mitchell was one of more than 50 students in the Greensboro Dreamers program, started by Tom Kelly, a retired health care executive, who promised a group of first graders in Greensboro, Ga., that he and his wife would pay for their college tuition if they pursued a degree.
Kelly kept that promise, and this year many of those students are graduating from college.
"We live in a low-income place, and not many people go to college where I'm from," Mitchell said. "They were there to motivate me, and they let me know that even though I'm from a small town I could go and finish school."
Since she joined the program, Mitchell has been helped every step of the way, including through academic support, a trip to New York City and financial help during college.
"They helped the students after school and on weekends with various tutoring help, mentoring and bringing them to cultural events," said Holly Wolfert, who served as Mitchell's mentor in the program.
Wolfert has seen Mitchell grow from a quiet high school freshman to the hard-working health informatics major she is today.
"When I'd just met her in her freshman year, she was pretty shy and very nice, but you could just tell that she was a little bit inhibited and not exposed to much," Wolfert said. "Over the years, I will say by the time she was a senior but so much so in college, she blossomed. She just shows so much more confidence now."
The Kellys' promise went beyond getting these students to their college graduation ceremony, Wolfert said. It gave them the ability to take on the world.
"The Kellys worked hard to instill proper work ethics in the students," she said. "They've learned how to present themselves in public."
The students were also taken on college tours, and Mitchell said when she visited CCGA, it just felt like home.
"They told us, 'When you get there, just close your eyes and imagine being a student here. If you can see yourself going there every day, then that's the school for you,'" Mitchell said. "And when I did that at the College of Coastal Georgia, I just felt that I fit in there."
While in college, Mitchell has completed two internships at hospitals in Athens and Brunswick. She is now going through the job-search process, and she said she hopes to move to Atlanta eventually to work in a hospital there.
Her dream job is to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wolfert said when she dwells on the work her Mitchell has put in to reaching her college graduation, she gets a little teary-eyed.
"She was a pretty strong girl, and she pretty much handled everything really well in life," Wolfert said. "And I think that she has a good perspective and good work ethic."
The Dreamers program shows how far a little time and support can take a small-town student, Wolfert said.
"There's so many of them that were great examples of what can become of young children who are given, from the get-go, proper guidance on what to expect in life and shown that you don't get what you don't work for," Wolfert said.
When Wolfert is asked what it means to her to see Mitchell graduate, she said she can't help but beam with pride.
"Brittany exuberates pride in what she's done," Wolfert said. "She herself deserves to feel very proud of her accomplishment of graduating college."
When she shakes the college president's hand tonight and receives her diploma, Mitchell will be the first to reach this milestone in her family.
"I'm the first generation college student on both my mom and my dad's side," she said.
Photo by Lauren McDonald of The News
Brittany Mitchell will graduate from College of Coastal Georgia on Friday and complete her time in the Greensboro Dreamers program.