For weeks, Verda Tetteh felt qualms about applying for the $40,000 merit scholarship her high school in Fitchburg, Mass., offered graduating students.
She was bound for Harvard, which had agreed to pay her tuition and room and board. Her 4.9 G.P.A. had qualified her for other scholarships that would cover college expenses.
Still, her guidance counselor urged her to go for it, telling her she had worked hard and deserved the award known as “The General Excellence Prize.”
Ms. Tetteh, 17, applied, figuring that the scholarship, which every year goes to one male and one female student selected by a committee of teachers, administrators and guidance counselors, would probably go to someone else.
The Boston Globe and other local news outlets reported on her speech this week, and it soon gained attention from national newspapers and television networks.
began to decline in the 20th century as local owners sold their businesses to national corporations and the paper industry’s dominance gave way to pharmaceutical companies and other manufacturers.
More than 60 percent of the students in the high school are identified by the State Department of Education as “economically disadvantaged,” and 67 percent are described as “high needs.”
At Fitchburg High, a public school, 75 percent of the roughly 1,300 students are students of color, said Jeremy Roche, the school principal. At least 40 percent of those students go to community college when they graduate, he said.
Join Michael Barbaro and “The Daily” team as they celebrate the students and teachers finishing a year like no other with a special live event. Catch up with students from Odessa High School, which was the subject of a Times audio documentary series. We will even get loud with a performance by the drum line of Odessa’s award-winning marching band, and a special celebrity commencement speech.
“A lot are first-generation students,” Mr. Roche said. “A lot of them are students who are the first to graduate high school in their family.”
He added, “There are many families here who work really hard and don’t make a lot of money.”
When Ms. Tetteh was 9, her mother, who provides care for people with disabilities, enrolled in Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Mass.