June 16, 2017
By Kyle Williams
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- An exclusive club of current and past Tennessee students welcomed new members on Friday as four incoming freshmen were awarded the Peyton Manning Scholarship at Neyland Stadium.
Manning and University Provost John Zomchick presented Emma Kate Hall of Lebanon, Grace Neiman of West Point, Nebraska, Sydney Peay of Spring Hill, and Blake Turpin of Knoxville with plaques celebrating the efforts they have shown throughout their academic careers--efforts that have earned them the title of 2017 Peyton Manning Scholars. With the induction of its four newest members, the Manning Scholarship, which originated 20 years ago, has now been awarded to 33 UT Knoxville students.
"I hope this program has provided each and every recipient with an extra edge to maximize their time here at Tennessee and beyond," Manning said. "It really means a great deal to me knowing how much students appreciate the opportunity, but also to witness their progress and their successes, both personally and professionally."
The scholarship, which was sought after by more than 300 applicants this year, covers nearly the full cost for tuition during the students' time at Tennessee. According to Zomchick, the process by which the four students were selected was rigorous and thorough.
"Manning scholars must demonstrate academic excellence through their class ranking, GPA, ACT or SAT test scores and through nomination and recommendation," Zomchick said. "Recipients must have established appreciation for active involvement with school and community activities."
For Hall, who was Student Government president and a member of the National Honor Society at Lebanon High School, the award will serve as an opportunity to make a difference both on campus and in the community. However, Hall made sure to recognize how surreal it was to be honored by a Tennessee legend.
The Manning Scholarship also made it possible for Peay to pursue her academic goals on Rocky Top. After competing in the National Chemistry Olympiad and serving as the president of the Gay Straight Alliance organization in high school, Peay intends to study sociology and is grateful to be a part of the campus culture at Tennessee.
"To be a Volunteer, and to be a member of a community that so strongly values that service means the world to me," she said. "I would not be able to take on that opportunity without the honor of this scholarship."
Turpin, who moved to Knoxville from Montgomery, Alabama, three years ago, said he could not imagine leaving what has become home to him. Turpin was treasurer of his Student Government Association his senior year, served as a member of Youth Leadership Knoxville and plans to major in civil engineering. However, similar to Manning, he hopes he can make a larger impact in the community after his graduation.
"It's truly inspiring and an amazing feeling to see someone who I have idolized over the years care enough about me, the University of Tennessee and this community to provide his support," Turpin said. "I think this honor would mean a lot coming from anyone, but to see that Mr. Manning provides it is a testament to what I truly believe, and that it that Knoxville is a very special place, and this university is a very special place."
Neiman, on the other hand, will be beginning her freshman year as a newcomer in the Volunteer State. Although being a member of her high school's concert band and the National Honor Society would indicate there was a lot to leave behind in West Point, she has found the kind of warm welcome in her short time spent in Knoxville that has kept Manning coming back for the past two decades.
"(Peyton's) gift helps us to chase our goals as we reach this pivotal point in our lives," Neiman said. "From the minute I stepped onto this campus, I felt welcomed. I can think of no better place to pursue my education. Though it may be true that there is no place like Nebraska, I know that Rocky Top will always be home sweet home to me."
The tradition of the Manning scholarship began in 1998, when he decided to form an endowment out of the scholarship money that came along with his on-field awards. What started out as an annual recognition of one student has progressed to a ceremony that now features four recipients, and as Tennessee Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics John Currie has observed, the relationship between Manning and the university continues to serve as a standard for returning student-athletes.
"Peyton Manning embodies the Volunteer tradition," Currie said. "The idea that this has been going on for 20 years and he has continued to be so incredibly engaged, understanding the impact that he has on the students... it is very special."