A University of Texas student is preparing to graduate college with no student loan debt after her high school mistakenly named her as class valedictorian four years ago.
Destiny Brannon was an 18-year-old graduating senior at DeSoto High School when she was recognized as the 2018 class valedictorian and gave a speech during the commencement ceremony. While she was prepared to enter the next chapter of her life as a freshman at the University of Texas, Brannon faced a financial setback that prompted her to raise donations to attend college.
According to WFAA, the-then 18-year-old relied on Texas state law that states if a student has valedictorian honors from a high school accredited by the Texas Education Agency, their first-year tuition at a public college or university would be covered.
After delivering the valedictorian speech, school officials informed Brannon that she did not graduate at the top of her class. Instead, the district miscalculated the class transcripts, dropping her to third place.
The high school calculated the final rankings based on her grades from the 2017 semester rather than the following spring semester.
She said, “It’s embarrassing because I got so much publicity from them on being valedictorian, only to be told that’s a mistake.”
Due to the mishap, Brannon was no longer eligible to receive the state’s scholarship assistance that would have paid for her first year, which was $25,134.
Brannon’s mother believed the school tampered with the final rankings after the 18-year-old criticized the school’s teachers and called out the district for prioritizing athletics over academics.
“This school year has been a troubling one for me and the DeSoto ISD school system,” she explained during the commencement speech. “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 addressed the issue in a written statement, assuring the family that the 18-year-old’s remarks had nothing to do with the mistake. “The district was aware of Brannon’s perspective prior to her speech.”
Since Brannon’s family could not afford to cover the tuition costs, she recalled not having a backup plan to attend school.
“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.”
Brannon turned to GoFundMe and created a campaign while sharing her story on social media. She exceeded her goal amount as generous donors started contributing to the cause. An anonymous donor pledged an additional $10,000 to help with the tuition cost.
Brannon said she “made sure to thank everyone who donated” and remembered how “blessed and overwhelmed” she felt.
After learning her story, UT-Austin stepped in by providing books and housing for the incoming freshman for the remainder of her undergraduate education.
Since tuition and fees are cheaper for undergraduate students who live in the state, she received a reduced rate of $10,600. However, the university increased the cost by $200 during the 2018 and 2018 academic years. The annual 2 percent increase prompted the University of Texas to approve an all across-the-board tuition hike for its campuses.
As graduation nears, Brannon confirmed that the university covered room and board, amounting to $10,804. The miscellaneous expenses added by the school were $4,392.
The financial assistance from GoFundMe and the university allowed Brannon to earn her bachelor’s in Health and Society from the school’s College of Liberal Arts.
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.”
Now, the 22-year-old plans on furthering her education in the medical field by attending nursing school in Dallas.
“They did NOT have to do that,” she explained about the school’s financial assistance. “So, I’m very grateful they wanted to help me.”
Watch Brannon’s full interview with WFAA below.