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New Vols: UT surprises 3 Austin-East HS students with their admission letters and scholarships

They'll each receive the Flagship Scholarship, which combined with the HOPE Scholarship will cover their mandatory tuition and fees for up to eight semesters.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee surprised three seniors Wednesday at Austin-East Magnet High School with their admission letters.

Anndrena Downs, Zakoyous Houston and Marius Irankunda are now future Vols after members of UT's admissions team visited the high school to welcome the first members of the Class of 2026. 

They'll each receive the Flagship Scholarship, which combined with the HOPE Scholarship will cover their mandatory tuition and fees for up to eight semesters. Austin-East is one of three flagship high schools in Knoxville and is among 38 others across the state. 

The three said they were taken completely by surprise by the announcement as students cheered them on after they were called up to the auditorium stage.

"I was very, very surprised," Irankunda said. "My teacher just said, 'We're going down to the auditorium."

"I was shocked when I came in here that I was getting a full ride," Houston said.

"It was amazing... my first thought was 'Did he just call my name?' and my second thought was, 'Yeah he called my name and I've been shut up!'" Downs said.

Redrick Taylor III, UT's Director of Diversity Recruitment and Outreach, said the opportunity will allow the three to change the world for the better.

"It means an opportunity to really change the projection of a family. A number of students may be the first in their family to attend college, and so this is going to allow them to be able to realize that opportunity and not have to worry about the financial barrier that might have been in place formally," he said.

Downs said she plans to study education in health and human sciences, Houston said he plans to study business administration, and Irankunda said he plans to study geology and environmental studies.