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New Horizons

Remarkable Grads Pursue their Passions

Joshua "JT" Hood 

One of fewer than fifty people in the world to receive Japan’s prestigious Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) Undergraduate Scholarship, Joshua “JT” Hood is the embodiment of a trailblazer.

Currently living in Japan on a full scholarship, JT is one of Brainerd High School’s four co-valedictorians for the 2022-2023 school year. With a transcript filled with as many AP classes as he could fit, JT scored a 34 on the ACT, and self-taught himself Japanese.

Despite these incredible achievements, though, JT says that he is most proud of going to State for basketball twice during his high school career. Once named All District and twice named All Region in basketball, JT notes, including practice time, he spends about six hours a day working out–one of his passions. JT’s mother Shayla told us, “My child got up every morning and rode his bike to school so the janitor could let him in to play ball. I love him more than life itself. He’s not perfect, but he broke a lot of barriers.” 

We asked JT how others would describe him. He told us “They would say I'm an extremely hard worker that doesn't give up until I achieve my goals. My greatest strength is probably never giving up.” Motivated by these goals and accomplishing new things, JT commented, “If my goal has to do with something that I know nothing about, then I will learn everything I have to about it." The best advice he’s ever been given? “Sometimes things just aren't meant to be. Don't try to control things that you have no control over.”

As for advice for his freshman self? JT commented, “I would say to study more for the PSAT, because you're going to regret being a few points [away from qualifying to be a] National Merit Scholar.”


Chasidy Burns

I have to admit that when I was granted the honor of interviewing a few of our remarkable grads, I was elated for another chance to speak with Ooltewah High School’s Chasidy Burns. Having had the privilege of speaking with her in previous shoots, she gives me hope for the future–not just in regards to the younger generation, but for humanity overall.

Self-described as spontaneous and brutally honest, Chasidy has proven that she is steadfast and doesn’t mind being what she describes as “all over the place”. An advocate for mental health and self-awareness, Chasidy was not only cheer captain, but she also found a passion for science at a young age, determining she wanted to be a pediatric anesthesiologist in middle school. She takes pride in all that she does and understands the critical importance of leadership as well as boundaries. 

You can’t help but be impressed by a young woman who is self-aware enough to choose not to cheer her freshman year at The University of Memphis in order to build her own community instead of defaulting to the one that is inevitably established among one’s team when pursuing athletics. 

Explaining that on any given day, what motivates her varies, Chasidy notes she gains motivation from her incredible mother, her thoughtful boyfriend, or the rain which she tells us is the world cleansing itself–something we all need as individuals as well. 

During our discussion of the best advice she’d ever been given, I couldn’t help but be amazed by Chasidy’s mental fortitude to understand that we all need to work a little harder on loving ourselves and not take things too seriously.

With Chasidy’s favorite part of Chattanooga being its southern hospitality, we know that while she won’t be too far, the unmistakable charm of Chattanooga will always bring her back home. 


Lily Andrews

Lily Andrews, a 2022 graduate of Signal Mountain Middle High School received the Girl Scouts Prestigious Gold Award when she created an ensemble that traveled to schools and children’s organizations without access to instruments. Lily told us, “We played Disney music and explained our instruments to spark the children’s interests. If I had to pick, this might be the thing I am most proud of because I had an impact on my community while proving to myself I can do anything I put my mind to.” The Gold Award is the highest achievement within the Girl Scouts of the USA, earned by Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts.

Motivated by her faith, the idea of what the future holds, and by her friends and family, Lily is currently pursuing a business degree with a focus on Entrepreneurship at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She plans to pursue her dream of owning her own bakery and coffee shop alongside her sister. 

During her time at Signal Mountain, Lily was a member of the Leo Club, Beta Club, National Honors Society, and a proud member of the Signal Corps Marching Band. Lily notes, “I also got the local Mary Ellen Locher scholarship both last year and recently for this year, which is something I am proud of.”

When asked about her favorite places in Chattanooga, Lily told us, “What I love most about Chattanooga is how it is the perfect place to grow up: from the play areas in Coolidge Park and the Pumpkin Patch, to grabbing Clumpies and walking on Walnut Street Bridge with friends. Niedlov’s, the Bread Basket, and Mean Mug are also some of my favorites.”


Marquez “Q” Thompson

As a southern California native and a music head myself, Marquez “Q” Thompson had me at Kendrick Lamar. Now, the youngest of ten siblings is making his way to the West Coast after receiving over forty college acceptance letters with plans to attend Stanford University where he will major in Philosophy with a minor in Public Policy. 

One of Brainerd High’s Schools four valedictorians, Marquez was Vice President of the National Honor Society Vice President, a member of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga’s National Achievers Society and the YMCA Youth Trust, a Chattanooga-Hamilton County Branch NAACP Youth Member, and a Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel P.C. Intern to name just a few of his accomplishments. Marquez’s incredible hard work earned him over $2 million dollars in scholarships. 

Sociable, open-minded, and charismatic, when asked what motivates him, Marquez replied with a quote by Malcolm X which says, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

What I found most intriguing throughout our conversation was not his favorite restaurants which include: Taziki's, Hibachi & Wings, Community Pie, Alimentari Cafe, and Giardino. Nor was it that he states the best advice he has ever been given was from his father who told him, “Your attitude determines your altitude.”, a motto he clearly lives by. No, what I found most intriguing was that he made no mention of being a nine year cancer survivor who has overcome blindness, seizures, hypertension, and memory loss. I found this out from our editor later, which then made the advice he would give to his freshmen self make a whole lot more sense.  Marquez told us, “The future is unpredictable and there will be many obstacles along the way. Follow your dreams and heart and God will guide you.”

Well, as much as I wish I could see the future and despite all of its unpredictability, something tells me this young man will surely be going very far.


Jada Higheagle

With aspirations of becoming a travel nurse, East Ridge High School’s 2022-2023 Valedictorian plans to travel the world to learn about different cultures while continuing to pursue her passion for helping others. 

Jada’s accomplishments are beyond extraordinary: Captain of the Cheerleading Squad, 2022-2023 Homecoming Queen, President of the National Honor Society, a leader on Student Council, and a member of the Beta Club, Chattanooga’s Upward Bound program, STEP-UP Chattanooga, and the Hamilton County Schools Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, Jada notes that the accomplishment of which she is most proud from her high school career is being named valedictorian. Jada’s course load consisted of all the honors, AP, and Dual Enrollment classes her schedule would allow and by graduation, Jada had not only become a Certified Medical Assistant, but she also received numerous awards and earned over $500,000 in scholarships. 

When asked about her favorite parts about Chattanooga, Jada told us, “I love the scenery of Chattanooga, the balance of nature and city life allows us to get the best of both worlds. My favorite place to eat would definitely be Cheddars, the broccoli casserole and grilled salmon are my favorites.”

Hardworking, dedicated, reliable, the life of the party and an overall go-getter, Jada comments, “The best advice I’ve received is to “Protect your peace.” I actually received this advice from multiple people in different moments of my life, so it’s not only the best advice but my most needed advice as well.”

Words of wisdom to her freshman self? “Do what makes you happy. Your happiness is what’s most important. So, it’s okay to say “no” to certain things. It’s okay to take a break from a club or organization if it's adding more stress to your plate and it is most definitely okay to let go of people in your life who are making it hard for you to succeed.”