Joelle Phillips, The Tennessean
Few Tennesseans — only 32 percent — have college degrees.
My great-grandfather did not attend college.
As a young man, he left Macedonia for America to make a better life, promising to send for his family soon. He worked many jobs and eventually opened a restaurant. Hard work allowed him to keep his promise to his family.
My grandfather didn’t attend college, either. He arrived in America speaking eight languages — no English — so he worked in the family restaurant.
By the time my father was born, my family realized the promise of a better life in America required pairing hard work with education. They promised to support the first generation of American-born children and send them to college.
I continue to benefit from their promise. A first-generation college graduate, my father earned a degree in engineering. He worked at NASA, South Central Bell and Alabama Power, but was most proud of the 35 years he spent teaching.
He taught thousands of students, including engineers at AT&T Tennessee. Those engineers transform AT&T’s investment into broadband networks, fueling countless Tennessee businesses and jobs.
My father also taught my sister and me that education was important and promised to support us as we pursued educations.
What does the future hold for Tennessee’s high school seniors? Life will be particularly challenging for those without a college degree or certificate.
For some students, cost places college out of reach. Others don’t have the support mentors provided my father and me.
But today, thanks to the work of Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly, high school seniors have been promised an opportunity to reshape their futures and the economy’s future.
Until Nov. 1, high school seniors can sign up at TNPromise.gov for the new Tennessee Promise scholarship program. It offers two years of tuition-free community or technical college to graduating high school seniors and connects each with a local mentor to help them with application processes and support them as they enter college.
Tennessee’s jobs require not only hard work, but education, as well. That’s why the Governor’s Drive to 55 — the mission to equip 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025 — is vital.
At AT&T Tennessee, our roughly 5,400 employees are called upon to perform more and more complex work. We support the Drive to 55 because it will generate the skilled workforce Tennessee’s businesses require.
That’s why I have asked AT&T Tennessee team members, employees and retirees, to visit TNPromise.gov and volunteer to serve as Tennessee Promise mentors.
And today, I encourage business owners to ask their employees and retirees to do the same. Mentors will receive training and can make all the difference for students by committing to just 15 hours of mentoring over the coming year.
My great-grandfather was proud to be an American. This country delivered on the promise he crossed an ocean hoping to find — that life could be better for him, his sons and generations after. As a professor, my father made the connection between education and the American promise.
As mentors, you and I can deliver on Tennessee’s promise. Please visit TNPromise.gov or Driveto55.org to learn more and volunteer today.
Joelle Phillips is president of AT&T Tennessee and chairs the Drive to 55 Alliance.