IMG_0558“Education is the key.” That’s the phrase that Gibson County Mayor and proud TCAT alum Tom Witherspoon uses throughout his annual “no excuses” talk to Gibson County students. Coupled with humor, including more than one jab at rival SEC football teams, Witherspoon kicked off the annual Milan High School College App Week Tailgate with words of wisdom based on his experience with higher education.

The tailgate party has become a tradition at Milan due in no small part to the tireless efforts of College Access Counselor Carol Parkins. According to her, two things are always true each year of the tailgate: the weather is perfect, and more and more community members come out to join the event and encourage students. This year’s guests included representatives from Jackson State Community College and Ceco Doors Manager of Human Resources Kristy Mercer, a Milan High School alum. Ceco Doors is among the largest employers in Gibson County, and Ms. Mercer’s ties to Milan and her work on the Northwest Tennessee Workforce Board have bolstered her commitment to helping Gibson County students understand the different kinds of careers available to them in their hometown and beyond.

Amidst the decorations, the “I Applied” College App Week stickers worn by students and faculty alike, and delicious local barbecue, the spirit of the day was a celebration of college pathways. Students wore college gear, including the signature University of Tennessee (UT) checkerboard overalls in honor of the upcoming Vols game that weekend, and discussions at picnic tables were filled with college application talk.

IMG_0556Students shared their excitement for a range of college choices. Many planned to access Tennessee Promise, which would help students pursue certificates and credentials at nearby Tennessee College of Applied Technology – Newbern and Jackson State. Others looked forward to a college experience at a four-year university such as UT-Martin or Austin Peay State University. The college-going culture was as pervasive as the smoky sweetness of the barbecue sandwiches; students were demonstrating a true belief that college was more than a dream, it was a plan. And in a school full of teachers, administrators, and counselors working together on college access, students exuded confidence in their ability to apply to, attend, and succeed in college.

Across Tennessee, nearly 300 schools, including Milan High School, participated in College App Week activities. An estimated 57,000 high school seniors gained more awareness of college through a variety of activities. Elementary school students talked to teachers during morning meetings about nearby colleges, middle school students searched for answers to college trivia questions, and high school students applied to colleges and scholarships including Tennessee Promise. From kindergarten to twelfth grade, all of these students received the message that Mayor Witherspoon delivered to Milan’s high school seniors. Education is the key, and Tennessee students are on the path to college.


College App Week is administered by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission as a part of the Path to College event series.