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FHS grad receives academic honors

Farragut High School graduate Mary Denman is living proof that one’s destiny lies in one’s own hands.

Despite a troubled start in life including a homeless father, a history of drug use and a less than stellar academic high school career, Denman has turned her life around and become the recipient of several academic honors since graduating from FHS in 2004.

A 2010 graduate of Pellissippi State Technical Community College, Denman has been the recipient of the 2010 Coca-Cola Silver Scholar award, for which she was awarded $1,250, an Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation worth up to $30,000 per year for up to three years, and she most recently has been named a Hites Transfer Scholar, which awards her with a $7,500 scholarship to the school of her choice.

Now enrolled at The University of Tennessee and pursing a degree in biosystems engineering with a minor in environmental engineering, Denman said she was surprised by the Hites scholarship.

“I really didn’t expect it. Especially since I had won the other awards, and because the Hites scholarship is only awarded to five students across the United States,” she added.

Denman also has been invited to speak to an educational forum at the Phi Theta Kappa Convention in April in Seattle, Wash.

“I get to share knowledge of scholarships and questions about school and transferring to a four year institution from a two year institution, and about my past, because it has been very different from most successful scholars,” she said.

“I went to Farragut High School and socially I didn’t like it. Academically it was a good school and I got a lot of great academic experiences there, but socially it was not the place for me and I didn’t do well in my studies. I didn’t really put the time and effort in. I just wanted to get out of there,” she added.

The child of a single mother and a homeless father, Denman described herself as a latch-key kid.

“I stayed out all the time and I didn’t really have a lot of parental guidance. I got mixed up with a bad crowd and got into trouble. I just felt an overwhelming sense of failure,” she said.

Denman found herself using drugs and heading to a place from which she was afraid she might never come back.

“I saw the people around me who were heavily into drugs completely ruin parts of their lives, things that they couldn’t come back from. I knew a couple of people who died, and a few people who were arrested, and it was really terrifying. I just didn’t want that to happen to me.

“So I decided I needed to start over and get my life together. So I decided to go back to school,” she said.

Denman said she thrived at PSTCC socially and academically. Before long she had made a place for herself in academia and was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

During her second semester at PSTCC she became involved with the Recycling Club, which led to her decision to study environmental engineering and her hopes to pursue a career in environmental law.

“At first I just wanted to check it out, I didn’t really have any intentions. I wasn’t too heavily into environmental work but I did have a passion for biology and life sciences and a certain respect for the environment, but I didn’t know that was what I wanted to do,” she said.

When the club decided to start an on-campus recycling program and PSTCC said they couldn’t afford to hire someone to do the work, Denman volunteered.

In addition to making the project more successful than she anticipated, Denman said she learned a lot about herself as well.

“I discovered I was capable of leading a group and planning things and making sure they were successful. It taught me a lot about life and problem solving,” she said.

Denman said if she could tell one thing young people who might find themselves in situations similar to her past, it would be about attitude.

“There is definitely a lot of useful knowledge that comes from having a positive attitude. Don’t doubt yourself. There is nothing to lose in trying. Even if you don’t completely succeed in certain things, you will still gain something from trying,” she said.


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