Maryville College student says White House contacted her ahead of presidential visit

MARYVILLE (WATE) – A local college student said she got an unexpected phone call from the White House ahead of President Obama’s visit to Knoxville Friday.

“I was blown away,” Caitlin McLawhorn said. “She said, ‘I’m calling from the White House. We would like to talk you about your education, your time spent at Pellissippi State and about your time with Tennessee Achieves.’”

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McLawhorn received her associate’s degree at PSCC before enrolling in Maryville College where she now studies business and communications. McLawhorn is on track to graduate in December when she will receive a bachelor’s degree.

McLawhorn said it’s a goal she wasn’t always sure was within reach because her family struggled financially.

“I’m a first generation college student,” McLawhorn said. “My mom is a single mom and so it looked like that was a goal that I wasn’t going to get to achieve.”

McLawhorn said her tuition was covered thanks to Tennessee Achieves, a program that gives last dollar scholarships to students.

“Going to Pellissippi State, I went there two years entirely free because of Tennessee Achieves,” McLawhorn said. “I’m about to graduate Maryville College and I never expected to be here and it’s because of Tennessee Achieves I made it this far.”

The White House said President Obama will discuss new education initiatives during his visit to PSCC Friday.

Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam announced plans for the Tennessee Promise, a program that gives free tuition for the first two years of community college for high school graduates. It’s a program mirrored after Tennessee Achieves.

“Our president has obviously seen the success of this and he likes the idea,” McLawhorn said.

McLawhorn said she isn’t sure whether her experience will play a role in the president’s speech but she said the very interest in her story from the office of the Commander in Chief has been an honor.

“It already seems like a dream so far,” McLawhorn said.

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