University of Tennessee gives scholarship to bullied student who designed homemade school shirt
The Florida fourth-grader who was bullied for his original T-shirt design showing off University of Tennessee spirit has been offered a full scholarship there, the university said Thursday.
"In recognition of the fourth-grader’s volunteer spirit, the university has extended an offer of honorary admission for him to join the Class of 2032. In addition, he has been awarded a four-year scholarship covering his tuition and fees beginning in fall 2028, should he decide to attend UT and meet admission requirements," the school said in a statement.
The student was bullied by classmates over his hand-drawn design, which he wore at Altamonte Elementary School for a college spirit day in August. After his teacher's post about the shirt went viral, UT decided to sell it online in the campus store.
Laura Snyder wrote on Facebook last week that her student had been extremely excited to show his support of UT.
"When I told my students about this day a week before, this particular child came to me and told me that he wanted to wear a University of Tennessee shirt, but he didn’t have one. We discussed that he could wear an orange shirt to show his spirit. He told me every day leading up to it that he had an orange shirt that he was going to wear," she said. "So when the day finally arrived, he was SO EXCITED to show me his shirt. I was impressed that he took it one step further to make his own label."
But some of his classmates bullied him over the homemade shirt.
"After lunch, he came back to my room, put his head [on] his desk and was crying. Some girls at the lunch table next to his [who didn’t even participate in college colors day] had made fun of his sign that he had attached to his shirt. He was DEVASTATED," she wrote.
Snyder's post was shared more than 11,000 times and caught the attention of the university, which embraced the student's design and school spirit.
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"Vols were touched to learn of the student's heart for the University of Tennesse and sent UT gifts of all sorts. Now you can share in this student's Volunteer pride by wearing his design on your shirt too," the store said on its website.
The campus store's server was reportedly overwhelmed by shoppers looking to purchase the boy's shirt. Orders are expected to ship later this month.
"It was so heartwarming. My student was so amazed at all the goodies in the box," Snyder said. "He proudly put on the jersey and one of the many hats in the box. All who saw had either goosebumps or tears while we explained that he had inspired and touched the lives of so many people."
"When I told him that his design was being made into a real shirt and people wanted to wear it, his jaw dropped," she added. "He had a big smile on his face, walked taller, and I could tell his confidence grew today!"
More than 50,000 shirts have been pre-sold, and all proceeds will go the Stomp Out Bullying nonprofit, according to the university.
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"Alumni, fans, and honorary Volunteers have stepped up in response to this story," the school said, adding: "University officials have spoken several times with the boy’s mother, who has expressed gratitude to the university and said the family has been deeply touched by the overwhelming outpouring from people around the world."
The University of Tennessee has also said it plans to cover the cost of the student's scholarship separately, should he decide to attend and be accepted.
This year marks UT's 225th anniversary, and the fourth-grader's story is part of the school's celebration, the university said, adding: "Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world."