Posted on: Tuesday - Aug 4, 2015

Tahj Turnley is blunt when he talks about himself.

“I probably shouldn’t be here.”

Born weighing less than two pounds, now 17 year-old, 220-pound Tahj is a true miracle in every sense of the word.

“Back when I was a freshman in high school, I didn’t think I would go to college, I didn’t think I was going to be anything,” he explains candidly. “I just thought sports was my only way out.”

As Tahj puts it, he was on a bad path, making poor grades and unconcerned with what would happen after high school. A future career was the furthest from his mind.

But after changing schools for his junior and senior year, Tahj began to see that future for himself, something that went from a dream to reality after enrolling in the TN Promise.

“I’m really trying to work for something that I believe in, and I’m trying to get myself on the right path,” Tahj said.

For Tahj, that path is Northfield Instructional Service Center, a branch of Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Hohenwald, where he’s studying automotive technology. Tahj sees himself working at Nissan and one day, owning his own business.

The TN Promise is both a scholarship and mentoring program focused on increasing the number of students that attend college in Tennessee. It allows students to attend any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology or other eligible institution offering an associate’s degree program, completely free of charge. 


Tahj Turnley

Sabrina Marcum

Over the past few months, 7,000 mentors have guided approximately 18,000 students through the application process.

And now, those thousands of students are beginning their first day of class.

“I’m glad that I was born in the right month, I guess you could say, and had this opportunity,” said Sabrina Marcum. “I don’t think I would’ve gone to college. I would’ve continued to pursue my career through experience and not a degree. I’m glad I have the opportunity to pursue a degree with my experience and not the other way around.”

Marcum, who just graduated from Gallatin High School, is enrolled at Vol State Community College and pursuing her two-year associates degree. She has hopes of one day of being in an administrative position at a hospital. 

“I would probably thank him a thousand times and tell him how appreciative I am for him being the one to stand up and help young people not have so much debt just coming out of high school,” explained Marcum, when asked what she would say to Gov. Haslam. “I’m going to college now and it boosts my opportunity for a higher salary.”

Jonathan Dyer is using this opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a firefighter. He’s enrolled at Southwest Tennessee Community College where he’ll study paramedics. 

Jonathan Dyer

“I want to give back to the community, and I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was four,” Dyer said. “I was excited when I first heard about TN Promise, because I knew then I wouldn’t have to pay for two and half years of college.”

The TN Promise is part of Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 – the Drive to get 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025. 

Unencumbered by the high cost of pursuing a degree beyond high school, students like Tahj, Sabrina and Jonathan are free to chase their dreams, leading to a more educated and qualified workforce for employers across the state.

“I’m excited about learning new things and trying new things out,” said Tahj, “I was in hopes that I would better my future and I would find somebody who would help me along the way and I’ve found plenty of people.” 

For more information on the TN Promise and Drive to 55, visit www.driveto55.org