Stacy Lightfoot beamed as she looked out at the audience of Dalewood Middle School eighth-grade students and their families and friends.
“We have some really exciting news to share about going to college right here in your backyard,” said Lightfoot, vice chancellor of diversity and engagement at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “Are you ready to hear why I’m here?
“We are pleased to inform you that each eighth-grade student that is here today who is being promoted from Dalewood Middle School into high school has been accepted into UTC. You all are going to college.”
With that announcement came a roar from the crowd.
Between May 15-23, Lightfoot and other UTC dignitaries are participating in numerous Hamilton County Schools eighth-grade promotion events to introduce the Middle School to Moc Scholar program.
A collaboration between UTC and Hamilton County Schools, Middle School to Moc Scholar will award every eighth-grade student a certificate of acceptance to UTC for fall 2027 enrollment—contingent upon successful completion of high school and meeting admission requirements for the University.
The initiative aims to build excitement for students about their future as college students, said Dr. Yancy Freeman, UTC vice chancellor for enrollment management and student affairs
“I hope it helps them stay on target if they want to go to college,” Freeman said. “For them to reach these goals, there are some things you need to do to get admitted, so all of this is to try to get an early jumpstart on getting those students to think about college as an option—a real option for them as a next step after completing high school.
“We want the students to be really excited about the promotion from eighth to ninth grade—and then we want them to know we’re reserving a spot for them.”
UTC presenters are attending 23 eighth-grade promotion ceremonies across the county—with more than 3,300 students expected to attend. In addition to certificates, UTC’s admission team will mail personalized letters to each student’s home along with UTC swag.
Nearly 100 students participated in the Dalewood promotion ceremony, which took place on May 22 at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church on North Moore Road.
The event, Lightfoot said, “exceeded my expectations. The energy in the room was palpable.
“When the students received the announcement, they didn’t quite understand what was going on, but the more we said, ‘You have a seat waiting for you at UTC,’ the parents and the families and the guardians and the audience understood. You saw the crowd standing up in support and surprise, and the students caught on.”
Lightfoot called it “humbling” to be the bearer of the news.
“To sprinkle a little joy in the hearts and the minds and the spirits and souls of families and students as they embark on a new journey entering into high school is a blessing and something I won’t forget,” she said.
Lightfoot was joined at the ceremony by UTC Experiential Learning Coordinator Bengt Carlson.
“Seeing each student come across and just thinking about their stories and the stories they represent was so exciting,” he said, “and it helps me be encouraged and gives me hope. It makes me hopeful that I will get to know some of these stories.
“I think as Stacy laid it out step by step, people started to really understand the gravity of what she was communicating. Then it really sunk in. We had parents standing up and then students standing up, realizing what had just been said. That was really special.”
Dalewood principal Rashaad Williams is a two-time graduate of UTC, earning a bachelor’s degree in 2003 and a master’s in 2007.
“As a proud alum of UTC it is indeed great to be a UTC Moc,” Williams told the audience. “It is a great honor to be accepted already into the University.”
Also in attendance for Dalewood’s promotion ceremony was Dr. Justin Robertson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools.
“Eighth-grade promotions are always exciting. Families are here to celebrate the end of a long journey and the anticipation of high school, so there’s always a lot of energy,” Robertson said. “I think the UTC announcement just added to that energy and relieved some stress from parents thinking about college four years from now and that process.
“I think there’s an air of anticipation of knowing that college is on the horizon and that it’s not just attainable—but it’s something that each and every one of these kids will have access to.”