The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s newest Peyton Manning Scholars were honored for their academic, civic, and leadership accomplishments at an event attended by Manning on August 24. The event, which was held in person again this year after moving online in 2020, gave the students and their families an opportunity to meet with Manning and be congratulated personally on their accomplishments.
First-year scholars Sidney Bennett, Obinze Nwokochah, Olivia Upchurch, and Madison Williams join a legacy of 45 recipients, bringing the total of Peyton Manning Scholars to 49. Manning has endowed the four-year scholarship since 1998, increasing the number of annual recipients from one to four during that time.
Manning greeted the scholars at the event and said it was just the beginning of the positive impact they will have at UT and in their communities.
“As you know, the selection process is rigorous and extremely competitive,” Manning said. “Choosing such an impressive group of students can be incredibly challenging, but it really speaks to the caliber, the achievements, and the superior credentials of these four exceptional students.
“I hope you will cherish the memories of your time here on Rocky Top with your fellow Volunteers,” Manning added. “I believe you will all be great representatives of the Manning Scholarship program and the University of Tennessee.”
UT Chancellor Donde Plowman addressed the students and their families as well.
“These four scholars have demonstrated thoughtful leadership and dedicated service,” Plowman said. “These qualities are at the core of what makes them great Volunteers and ambassadors for our university, and also worthy recipients of an award that bears the name of a beloved Vol who lives these values every day.”
Bennett, of Brentwood, Tennessee, plans to study biology and wants to enter the medical profession. She has participated in STriVE at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, a program that allows high school students to play with young patients, learn to operate playrooms, and explore the medical field. Bennett’s participation fueled her desire to advocate for child life programs in underserved health care systems. She held leadership positions within the National Art Honors Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and she was the captain of her school’s undefeated state champion girls’ cross-country team.
“It was just so amazing when I realized that Peyton Manning, someone so famous and well known, paid for my scholarship,” she said. “I’m just really thankful and excited, and I think it shows how much Tennessee really is about being a Volunteer. He really just kind of embodies that.”
Nwokochah, of Mount Juliet, Tennessee, plans to major in biology and pursue a career in the health care industry. A Nashville native, he was raised with Nigerian roots and culture instilled by his immigrant parents. He has led through involvement in clubs such as Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), the Science Olympiad, International Club, and Save the Children, and as an officer in the Black Student Union. He also enjoys singing and producing songs, playing sports, being a member of his school’s nationally competitive show choir, acting in musicals, and creating social media content.
“I am so grateful for this opportunity and the scholarship,” he said. “It will not only help me further my studies in biology here at UT, but will also represent Black excellence across the nation. It will inspire many others to try and reach for the top and give them hope that if I can do it, so can they.”
Upchurch, of Denton, Texas, plans to major in psychology to become a licensed professional counselor and incorporate equine therapy into her future practice. She was valedictorian of her class, captain of the varsity basketball team, president of the Spanish Honor Society, and a senior class officer. She loves serving children in need through volunteering and as a leader of her church’s youth group. She also enjoys riding horses and participating in hunter jumper shows, playing the piano, and camping.
“I’m so grateful for this scholarship because without it I wouldn’t have been able to come to Tennessee, which has been my dream school for many years,” she said. “The first time I visited UT was so wonderful because all the people were so kind to me and just made me feel right at home right away. Peyton Manning made my dreams come true.”
Williams, of Newport, Tennessee, plans to double major in psychology and communications and is interested in bringing equal opportunities to traditionally low-income communities like her own. She served as president of her school’s Student Council and the Future Business Leaders of America. She played four years of varsity volleyball and was co-captain of the team her senior year. She enjoys working with kids in sports, in particular through her local Little League team. Williams hopes to one day give back to the community that gave so much to her.
“I am extremely grateful that this scholarship helped me gain the opportunity to attend the University of Tennessee,” she said. “This is an opportunity to learn and grow, and it really sets me on the right path to help my own community back home. That’s something that I’m really passionate about.”
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