Dolly Parton’s Buddy Program education initiative gets a fresh spotlight on TikTok

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Dolly Parton’s long-standing Buddy Program is getting a new dose of attention, thanks to a TikTok video that racked up 148.1 thousand view and counting in its first few days up.

In the video, a TikTok user named Cam shares a story from his co-worker, who went to the same high school as the country legend. “Not at the same time, but the same high school,” he clarifies. And that would have been notable enough for a story in its own right, but the co-worker added, “And when I graduated, she gave me $500.”

As the video notes, $500 when the co-worker graduated is equivalent to $1,061.34 in 2022, and Dolly’s gift was part of an initiative that made a massive difference in graduation rates. Launched in 1988, the Buddy Program began when Dolly promised every 7th and 8th grade student in her home county that she would personally give them $500 if they graduated.

“And I started looking into it after my shift was over,” Cam continued in the TikTok video. “Tell me how Dolly Parton single-handedly drove down the drop-out rate from 30 percent to six.”

It’s true: In fact, according the the Dollywood Foundation’s website, the program actually took the high school drop-out rate in Sevier County from 35 percent to six percent, and fostered the community to implement more initiatives incentivizing students to finish high school.

“That’s only one of the initiatives from the Dollywood Foundation. There’s more,” the video concludes. For example, Dolly’s Imagination Library gifts a free book each month to children under five.

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