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The Power of an Honors Education

Written by Sydney Mcabee

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” and that quote has resonated with me since I started college in 2017. Education as a weapon changed the meaning of the word. Education was no longer an obligation to a school district but an opportunity to transform myself and others. After graduating high school valedictorian of my class, I decided to go to Cleveland State Community College. Since I had previously enjoyed various honors classes, I applied for their Presidential Scholars honors program. The impact the program had on me was so immense that after completing my associate’s degree at Cleveland State, I am transferring to the University of Tennessee and choosing to continue my honors education in the 1794 Scholars Program. My next educational goal is to attend the University of Tennessee Health Science Center to become a dentist and specialize in pediatrics. My experience in the honors program at Cleveland State, my excitement for the 1794 Scholars Program, and the value of an honors education empower education’s impact on my life.

During my year in Cleveland State’s honors program I was faced with challenging courses and new classmates with whom I spent most of my time. The honors classes were considerably smaller than traditional classes. This allowed the time spent in class to be more personal and genuine. The classes also had higher expectations, which challenged us in new ways. I pushed myself past limits I would have previously backed away from, and the rigorous standards made the victory of completing the coursework that much greater. Additionally, I was a part of a cohort of students taught by outstanding professors throughout the year. Within the cohort, our majors varied, so I was able to gain perspectives on topics that differed from my own. Moreover, the program heavily emphasized giving back to the community which galvanized me to volunteer at campus events and tutor fourth graders at Benton Elementary School. Throughout the program, I challenged myself, met extraordinary people, and gained the mindset of seeing education as an experience.

I am excited to continue to cultivate the mindset I gained through the Presidential Scholars program at UTK. The 1794 Scholars Program provides a chance to extend my honors education while focusing more on my major. The idea of a new community of students and faculty that will share the common interest of an honors education truly excites me. Registering for classes early, greater library privileges, and study abroad opportunities are a few aspects I am looking forward to taking advantage of as I begin my academic career at UTK. I hope to use the 1794 Scholars Program to set myself apart from other applicants when I begin applying for graduate school because of its impact not only academically but also in various aspects of my life. For example, reflective writing exercises will allow me to build a strong image of myself by focusing on my goals and how my current activities contribute to them. Participating in volunteer service throughout the program demonstrates that I have not only dedicated my time to academics but also to helping my community. Transferring to UTK and joining an honors program has left me nothing but optimistic about my academic career.

Honors education is important to me because it allows me to continually challenge myself, come in contact with new people, and stop and ask the question “Why does this matter?” With challenges, sometimes failure results. Prior to my honors education, I would have taken failure as a sign of defeat or inadequacy. Now, failing means I tried something new. Failure is humbling and has often inspired the use of creativity in solving difficult tasks. The people I met in the honors program were there facing challenges, failing, and getting back up just as I was. The most important aspect I learned through the program was determining why an education mattered. I could know all the facts surrounding biology, but until I utilized that information to help someone, none of it mattered. Acquiring a degree means little if I am unable to use it as my “weapon to change the world.” An honors education taught me to keep moving, keep growing, keep sharing, and keep chasing.

If I had been unable to continue my honors education at UTK, I would have missed a huge opportunity to help others and improve myself. I have a chance to truly become successful. Not successful in the traditional sense of making a lot of money, hanging advanced degrees on my wall, or building my reputation, but rather, successful in challenging myself, meeting inspiring people, and having the chance to utilize my education to help and treat others. During my time in the 1794 Scholars Program, I will learn new ways to strengthen my weapon to change the world.