A Texas student, who thought she graduated No. 1 in her high school senior class four years ago until officials realized they made an error in calculating the rankings and dropped her to the third spot, is preparing to leave college with almost no loan debt.
She walks away with the financial blessing thanks to a GoFundMe campaign that raised tens of thousands of dollars to replace the state benefit she lost by not being the valedictorian at her high school in suburban Dallas.
WFAA reports Destiny Brannon raised $40,000 from her crowdfunding effort that she began in 2018 when she discovered she would have to pay for her first year of tuition at the University of Texas at Austin.
As a graduating DeSoto High School senior, Brannon had been relying on a Texas state law that states if a student graduates with valedictorian honors from a high school accredited by the Texas Education Agency, their first-year tuition at a public college or university will be waived.
However, after the commencement ceremony where she received the valedictorian recognition and gave the class speech, the young scholar was informed the district had miscalculated the class end of the year transcripts and her actual position landed her in third place.
The high school calculated the final rankings based on grades from the 2017 fall semester, rather than the 2018 spring semester.
At the time she said, “It’s embarrassing, because I got so much publicity from them on being valedictorian, only to be told that’s a mistake.”
Embarrassment aside, she was no longer eligible for the state’s scholarship assistance that would have helped allay the costs for her freshman year at the university which was (at the time) $25,134.
Brannon’s mother believed the school revised the rankings criteria in retaliation to Brannon’s graduation speech which criticized the school’s “subpar teachers” and the district’s prioritization of athletics over academics.
The teen said in her graduation remarks, “This school year has been a troubling one for me and the DeSoto ISD school system. We were challenged with subpar teachers who honestly weren’t there to benefit the needs of the DeSoto students.”
“Unfortunately, DeSoto ISD is plagued with the idea that sports are somehow more important than education,” she continued. “I’m not quite sure how this ideology came about but I do hope for a change.”
The district spokeswoman Tiffanie Blackmon-Jones apologized in a statement to the family and assured them her speech had nothing to do with her mistake, adding, “The district was aware of Brannon’s perspective prior to her speech.”
To make matters worse, Brannon’s family was in no place to help her with school costs. They had recently closed on a house.
The proud Bevo said, “I was very distraught about the situation because I didn’t know how I would pay for school at the time. I kind of didn’t have a backup plan.”
The quick-thinking Brannon started a GoFundMe campaign, accompanied by a social media and press push, to raise the money for school. Her goal was $25,000, but she almost doubled it with the support of sympathetic donors from across the nation. One angel-giver dropped $10,000 into the pot.
Brannon said she “made sure to thank everyone who donated,” and remembered how “blessed and overwhelmed” she felt.
Additional support came from UT-Austin also. After hearing about her dilemma, the school pitched in by scholarshipping her books and housing for all of her undergrad years.
Tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates at UT-Austin, was approximately around $10,600. During Brannon’s matriculation, tuition was bumped up $200 in both the 2018 and 2019 academic years — annual increases of 2 percent — after the University of Texas System approved an across-the-board tuition hike for all of the school’s campuses.
Room and board, the soon-to-be graduate says was covered by the university, was $10,804 and miscellaneous expenses added by the school was $4,392.
Given these figures, the assistance from UT-Austin allowed the $40K+ to stretch over all four years and for her to earn her bachelor’s in Health and Society from the school’s College of Liberal Arts without financial angst.
According to the school’s website, “the central goal of Health and Society is to train students to understand the socio-demographic, cultural, political, and ethical contexts that underlie health behavior and health policy. We expect many of our graduates to move into positions in non-profit organizations, government, international development or the healthcare industry.”
After graduation, with her degree, Brannon plans to further her education in the discipline by attending nursing school in Dallas.
“They did NOT have to do that,” the 22-year-old says about the school administration’s assistance. “So, I’m very grateful they wanted to help me.”