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Sage Cudney, Mercer Admissions counselor (left), and Christina Huseman, coordinator of Tift Programs at Mercer, present Abigail Sugg with a certificate recognizing her as the recipient of the 2021 Mercer University Bessie Willingham Tift Scholarship, a full ride scholarship that includes room and board, equating to approximately $250,000 over four years.

COVINGTON — The future looks bright — and debt-free — for Abigail Sugg, a student at Eastside High School and the Newton College & Career Academy STEM Institute. The high school senior was awarded the Bessie Willingham Tift Scholarship from Mercer University — a full ride scholarship that includes not only tuition but also room and board.

According to Christina Huseman, coordinator of the Tift Program at Mercer University, that equates to approximately $250,000 over the course of four years. She added that Sugg was chosen the sole winner of the Bessie Willingham Tift Scholarship out of 198 applications for the prestigious award.

“I’m so happy to receive this honor, said Sugg. “Mercer University has been a goal for me since eighth grade. It has always been my number one college that I wanted to attend. It has always been my end goal.”

She explained that she fell in love with the school after a stroll on the campus.

“Walking on that campus I always felt like it could be a home, and I liked the fact that it was smaller and that they really value education there,” said Sugg.

She added that her plans are to double major in graphic design and business at the university.

In addition to her free ride, Sugg will also hold several college credits when she arrives on campus as she has participated in dual enrollment since junior year and has also earned AP course credits.

“Abigail is an outstanding student and has truly excelled at Eastside, the STEM Institute and in Dual Enrollment,” said Eastside High School Principal Jeff Cher. “She is a remarkable young lady and so deserving of this scholarship. We say that Eastside graduates excellence, and she definitely exemplifies that.”

Cher also noted how the scholarship presentation was extra special as Ms. Huseman, the coordinator of the Tift Programs at Mercer and the one who awarded the scholarship to Sugg, is also a graduate of Eastside High School.

“It’s very exciting to be back to present this scholarship to an Eastside High School student,” said Huseman, who explained that Mercer University bought Tift College in 1986 and in the merger they created the Tift Legacy and the Tift Scholars program as a way to continue that legacy.

“Every year admissions presents the Tift program with a list of scholars that meet certain academic criteria,” Huseman said. “Of those, they are interviewed by Tift alum, Tift Scholar alum, and some are interviewed based on a board recommendation.”

Sugg entered the scholarship program through a board recommendation by Tift Scholar alum Julia Chatfield, a 2006 graduate of Mercer University and current science teacher at Eastside High School.

“We always want someone who not just wants to go to Mercer but whose passion is to go to Mercer,” explained Chatfield. “We also look for students who are strong academic students and students who are very well-rounded who will be involved in the Mercer community. Abigail meets all of those requirements, and I believe she hits all of those marks. She will be an outstanding representative of what Tift means. As a result of this scholarship, she will be one of the faces of the Tift program for the next four years.”

“I am so very thankful to be blessed with this opportunity because it is an expensive school to attend,” said Sugg, who admitted to being extremely nervous during the interview process. “I didn’t know at the time that the scholarship covered everything, including room and board. This is just so surreal. When I learned I got the scholarship I was in total shock and just so excited to tell my parents. It’s just a fantastic opportunity.”

During her high school career, Sugg has immersed herself not just in academics but also numerous organizations including the FBLA, TSA, the swim team, color guard and concert band. She’s looking forward to being involved in the Mercer University community as well when she reports in the fall.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Abigail,” said Chad Walker, principal of the Newton College & Career Academy. “We are so proud of her for this outstanding accomplishment and wish her the very best at Mercer University.”

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I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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