Tennessee Virginia Scholars told detours OK, moving backward is not

Rick Wagner • Apr 17, 2019 at 2:45 PM

KINGSPORT — On the road of higher education, Elaine Washington, Eastman Chemical Co. finance executive, told some of the region’s best and brightest high school seniors that detours are sometimes OK or even warranted but that you should never move backward.

Case in point: Washington, an African-American woman from Chicago, said a college economics professor once told her class that black women were a “drain on the American economy.” She decided to prove him wrong and soon transferred to Loyola University Chicago, where she eventually earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business finance.

Washington said she is the only black women in finance at Eastman. In college, she was often one of few African-Americans if not the only one in some college classes, like in that 1970s economics class.

“What he said hurt me really bad,” Washington told the 25th annual Tennessee Virginia Scholars picnic Tuesday at the Eastman Recreation Area. “A lot of kids were looking over at me.”

She transferred to Loyola and used that as a life lesson for scholars. 

The Kingsport Chamber of Commerce operates the program, sponsored by Eastman Chemical and BC Realty. Event sponsors included Appalachian Power, Brock Services, Canteen Vending, Citigroup, Cooper Standard Automotive, Eastman Credit Union, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Food City, Jersey Mike’s, Crystal Springs, Walmart Supercenter and Walmart Neighborhood Market.

“We can always detour, but we never need to go backward,” Washington told the group of about 270 in attendance of more than 350 eligible for the scholars honor. “Make sure those detours don’t take you backwards.”

Students from Cherokee, Dobyns-Bennett, Gate City, Rye Cove, Sullivan North, Sullivan South, Twin Springs and Volunteer high schools attended.

Washington also recalled the Principal Scholars program in inner city Chicago, started by the late Silas Purnell, and her mom urged her into college. Much like the Tennessee Virginia Scholars program, Purnell’s program had students take math and science classes, as well as college-preparation courses. The local scholars program also requires students have good attendance, community service and no major discipline issues, while the Purnell program had summer internships.

Door prizes included $250 Best Buy gift cards for Palmer Case Jenkins of D-B and Dom Coughlin of South, as well as a cooler to Peyton Damby of D-B.

After the speech and door prizes, some students shared their college and career plans. Among those, D-B’s Ashley Hunt, who learned Sunday she made the University of Tennessee cheerleading squad, plans a degree and career in nursing, while D-B’s Corinne Rose plans to attend Elon University in North Carolina and study journalism, with the goal of becoming an investigative journalist.

Among other students at the picnic, Garrett Sherer of D-B said he will attend ETSU but is undecided on a major, although he said he may become a firefighter. Russell Gamble of D-B plans to major in business at ETSU. Gate City’s Ethan Shipley plans to major in supply chain management at UT, while Gate City’s Noah Jones plan to major in economics at ETSU.