As a senior at Forest View High School in Gastonia, Marcy Sammons had her eye on Western Carolina University. She'd heard good things about WCU's College of Business, but perhaps even more importantly, WCU had the best Marching Band in the state and one of the best in the nation.
Sammons led the Color Guard at Forest View, and she'd heard stories about WCU's 2014 trip to march in the Macy's Day Parade. She was a high school junior at the time.
But when senior year rolled around, the cost of a four-year university simply wasn't an option for Sammons or her family. She was going to need to borrow the money she would need to attend school, and the thought of finishing a marketing degree with significant college debt was overwhelming.
"I'm trying to look out for the future and not be in debt forever," Sammons said.
So, in the fall of 2016, Sammons enrolled at Gaston College, a public community college near her home. She earned her Associate of Arts from Gaston while living at home and working a part time job to pay her tuition cost.
Then, last year, as she began to again consider whether or not she could afford to transfer to a four-year school and finish her bachelor's degree, Sammons heard from friends at WCU about the introduction of NC Promise.
"That was definitely the yes," she said. "It was the deal breaker."
The program opened the door for Sammons to have the college experience she was hoping for. The reduced tuition meant that she would take on less debt, plus she would have the flexibility to work less during school so that she could join the award-winning Pride of the Mountains Marching Band.
"I was able to work quite a bit over the summer and save up money so that I could pay out of pocket instead of taking out a lot of student loans," Sammons said.
The reduced debt is nice, but her real excitement came when she learned this Spring that the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band has been invited back to the Macy's in the fall of 2019. It will be Sammons' senior year at Western Carolina, and she'll get to make that once-in-a-lifetime trip thanks in large part to NC Promise.
This year, Pride of the Mountains will become one of the only bands in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade history to preform twice in 5 years. Over 500 Catamounts will make the trip from Cullowhee to New York City to lead the parade. The journey to this incredible day begins now, follow along on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.