"Our community gives me hope for the future"


Verda Annan is a 2021 Fitchburg High School graduate and current freshman at Harvard University. During graduation at Crocker Field in June, Annan was awarded the General Excellence Scholarship – a $40,000 scholarship – but turned it down minutes later, walking back up to the podium and announcing she wanted to return it for a student going to community college.

“I am so very grateful for this, but I also know that I am not the one who needs this the most,’’ said Annan during graduation. “Knowing my mom went to community college, and how much that was helpful, I would be so very grateful if administration would consider giving the scholarship to someone who is going to community college.’’

Annan’s amazing act of kindness, which drew a standing ovation at graduation and later national media attention, made a difference for four 2021 Fitchburg High School graduates. In September, Fitchburg High Principal Jeremy Roche announced that Annan’s General Excellence Award was split between four members of the Class of 2021. The recipients were Obrian Porter and Joseline Escobar (Mount Wachusett Community College), Angel “AJ” Melendez (Puerto Rico) and Gemely Luzon Cruz (Fitchburg State University).

“I am thrilled that the General Excellence Award has been awarded to four very deserving students from the Class of 2021,” Annan said. “It makes me so happy that I could make that kind of an impact on someone else’s life, because there have been so many people and communities that have poured kindness and love into my life, making me the Verda I am today. Education, both formal and informal, is powerful. It is the key to solving many of our world’s challenges, so we need to actively invest in the youth of today to ensure a better tomorrow.”

These students will receive $2,500 per year for the next four years of college.

Click the questions below to view Verda's answers.

How has school been going at Harvard?

There are certainly a lot of eyes on me now, and I think that makes it even more important to be honest to myself and to others about my experiences at Harvard. Honestly, it has been academically challenging. But, I'm grateful for the challenge. It's an opportunity for me to grow and achieve more than I would have thought I could.

What are the biggest differences from high school to college?

I think one of the biggest differences between high school and college is that in high school you learn surface content, but college is all about integrating that knowledge and applying it to the real world. Math isn't just math any more, it's about optimizing the cost of the MBTA; science isn't just science anymore, it's about understanding how COVID-19 drugs work in your body.

What is the average day in the life of Verda?

I feel like there is no average day. I wake up at a different time almost every day – anywhere from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. depending on how much homework I have. I like to read my bible and pray in the morning because it really does give me the strength and wisdom to take on the day. Then, I go to my 9 a.m. class. (I may or may not take a nap in the library after that). I work on assignments in the afternoon, I work at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in the evenings, then I sleep at any time from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. depending on how much I procrastinate during the day time.

How much do you still hope to aspire to make a difference even though you have graduated from FHS? Your story continues to resonate and make the Fitchburg community proud.

I don't hope and aspire to make a difference even though I graduated from FHS; I hope and aspire to make a difference because I graduated from Fitchburg High School. Our community gives me hope for the future: a future of diverse communities and hard-working people who care for each other like we do.

What are your career goals, while studying at Harvard?

The more I learn at Harvard, the more my career goals shift. But one thing that will never change is that I hope that my work does good for other people.

Best advice you can give current Fitchburg Public Schools students?

I think the best advice I can give to a FPS student is to know why you go to school. If you feel like there's no point, you won't put that much effort in. But try to look ahead. You don't have to know what your future is going to be, but when you realize that getting an education (whether formal or informal) can improve your life, you get a little bit more motivation to work hard in school. You are going to school today for a better tomorrow.

We got to watch you go on Steve Harvey and you received a new car. How cool was that experience and all the publicity you have received?

That was incredible. The whole experience was amazing, and I'm glad the publicity it received spread a good message. I'm still speechless.

What is next for Verda?

Winter vacation at home. There are a couple of exciting things on the horizon, but I don't think I should mention them just yet. I don't want to spoil the show.

What is your message for the Fitchburg community, and for all the little kids that are dreaming big like you?

If I could tell little kids from Fitchburg one thing, I'd say dream big. Really big. Then work really hard to achieve your dream.

Anything else you want to add?

I'd also like to remind the community to continue supporting students. I only got where I am today because a community of people got together and took care of me by giving me rides home from after-school clubs, providing me with many resources, believing in me, and empowering me.

My success is not mine alone, and I owe a million thanks to so many people. In that same way, I hope the community will continue to pour out love and support unto students so that they can get to the place they want to be.

Harvard Student Donates $40K Scholarship to Classmates in Need.mp4

Verda Annan, a former Fitchburg High School student and now a freshman at Harvard, appeared on Steve Harvey’s talk show on an episode that aired in November after gaining national attention in June for offering her $40,000 scholarship to students attending community colleges.

During the appearance, Verda was surprised when she received a brand new car, a 2021 Kia Niro electric vehicle.