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Graduating without debt a big benefit
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I’ve always been taught you should pay it forward when it comes to helping others because it is true that what comes around, goes around. If you help others then, when you are in need, there will be someone to help you or your family. That’s why I joined tnAchieves as a mentor this year, to both pay it forward and to pay it back.

For those of you who don’t know, tnAchieves is a mentoring program for high school seniors to help them navigate the sometimes-tangled web of financial aid and other red tape that stands between them and a higher education. The mentoring program was brought about to operate hand-in-hand with the Tennessee Promise program that promises two years free community college or technical school education for every student who graduates in Tennessee.

I ended up getting my basics at Motlow and then getting my bachelor's degree in political science at Tennessee Tech. Of course, this was long before Tennessee Promise came about. I wish they had it when I was in school because it would have saved me thousands of dollars.

Given the insanely high costs of post-secondary education nowadays, unless you are loaded you can’t afford to pay for college out of your pocket. It was expensive 30 years ago when I was in college but since then, post-secondary education has skyrocketed leaving many students facing two avenues.

First, you need to be good at sports or be good academically so you can get a scholarship to pay for your education. Then second, which was my case, you have to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in student loans after your college career is over. Yes, you’re rewarded for all your hard work by Uncle Sam sending you a massive bill that you’re expected to pay just as you’re getting your career started.

Fast forward 30 years. My son Jack recently graduated with a machinist degree from the local Tennessee College of Applied Technology. He was even assisted in finding a job in his field of study and is presently working full-time.

However, unlike me and millions of others who started adult life saddled with thousands in college debt, Jack doesn’t owe the government one penny thanks to Tennessee Promise. They paid his technical school bill allowing him to begin his career by saving money, not paying it to Uncle Sam.

Like I said, in mentoring students who will be taking advantage of free two years of college, I’m paying it forward and paying it back. Someone mentored Jack and started him on his career. They paid it forward now I’m paying it back.

Plus, someday Henry may look to continue his education. That’s where I’m paying it forward, for that mentor out there who will someday help him.

Standard reporter Duane Sherrill can be reached at 473-2191.