A North Lenoir High School student got a surprise Friday when he received a call from a university offering him a free scholarship to design video games.


Cameron Knepper’s story caught the attention of Full Sail University’s president, Garry Jones, after he heard the 16-year-old sophomore walks three miles to school to connect to North Lenoir’s Wi-Fi while schools are closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


He walks three miles to school and another three miles back home Monday through Friday to keep up his grades and to one day attend Full Sail in Winter Park, Florida.


Knepper’s dream is now a reality.


Jones invited Knepper to a conference call Friday, April 10, to offer him a free hotspot for internet.


"First and foremost, you landed at a wonderful school at North Lenoir," Jones said. "The reason you walk three miles to school and now biking is because you don’t have Wi-Fi. We want to send you a Verizon Wireless hotspot."


Knepper spoke up to inform Jones that North Lenoir principal Gil Respess had already donated a hotspot for him and that Knepper will receive free internet for two months beginning on April 11.


"What a fabulous principal you have," Jones said. "In that case, with the Wi-Fi covered, I want to offer you a free scholarship at Full Sail University after graduation."


Silence lasted a brief second on the conference call.


"I got weak in the knees," Knepper said.


Knepper can choose among 80 plus degree programs in entertainment, media, technology or gaming.


The program offerings at Full Sail range from undergraduate certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor and masters degrees on campus or through virtual classes online. Bachelor tuition for the entire degree ranges from $57,000 (online) to $86,500 (campus) before scholarships are applied, which are offered to many students based on need and/or merit, according to the university.


After Knepper accepted the offer and thanked Jones, the university’s president had another surprise for the North Lenoir student.


Jones introduced Chance Glasco, co-founder of Call of Duty and Infinity Ward video game series and Full Sail graduate, to Knepper over the phone after Jones learned the sophomore’s favorite game is Call of Duty.


"I read you walk three miles to school. That’s crazy," Glasco said. "I went out to Full Sail and ended up sleeping in the backseat of my car and taking showers at a gym. I struggled, so to see you doing that every day is dedication, and it shows me that you are going to be successful."


"I was so impressed with your story that we had to reach out to you," Jones said. "People at North Lenoir are extremely kind and wonderful, and they have good things to say about you and what a good student you are.


"It is a great honor that you think of us as your next step."


Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Lenoir County Public Schools closed on March 16, and with no internet at home, Knepper has lugged his backpack ever since for three miles to school and three miles back home just so he can keep his grades up and go to college.


When Knepper could no longer connect to Gmail after being quarantined, he walked to school, set up his tablet on a bench, and emailed his teachers.


"My first thought was, ‘God, I’m going to be behind,’" Knepper said. "I emailed all my teachers, apologizing to them. I told them that I will do my work."


Knepper and his mother Mackenzie Ward moved from Louisiana last summer to North Carolina, where Knepper enrolled at North Lenoir and found the administration and staff to be kind and helpful.


Principal Respess and science teacher Josh Ayers quickly stood out to Knepper.


"The principal is one of the nicest people I have ever met," Knepper said. "He generally cares about every student, and I constantly hear him making sure every student feels at home here.


"The teachers are extremely nice."


After news traveled throughout the school that a student was walking to North Lenoir Monday through Friday to complete his assignments, the school posted a photo of Knepper on its Facebook page with quotes from teachers and the announcement that Ayers stepped up with a surprise gift.


Knepper now uses Ayers’ bicycle to get to and from school during the COVID-19 crisis. The generous donation has cut Knepper’s time down to 25 minutes from an hour and a half of walking.


"Cameron has always been very polite in class and has proven himself to be a hard worker," Ayers said in the Facebook post. "I was a little worried when school got out because I knew he didn’t have WiFi and never came to pick up paper copies, but shortly after our last day, he emailed me and said he would make it work with the digital copies. He’s gone above and beyond since then and has made 100′s on all the assignments so far. Excellent student and a better kid."


For now, Knepper completes his English, science, and entrepreneurship assignments each day through the Zoom video conferencing app or Classroom Canvas on a school bench.


He first set up his workspace at the school’s entrance, fearing he wasn’t allowed to be on campus while school was closed.


"The principal told me I could sit on a bench. I picked the bench closest to the doors but I got sunburned," Knepper said. "I picked this bench because I needed coverage."


Knepper continues to arrive at 10 a.m. and leaves around 2 p.m. every day. It has never crossed his mind to just stay home, kick off his shoes, and avoid the work.


"I want to go to college and study video game design at Full Sail University in Florida," Knepper said. "I could blow it off, but what’s the point of that? I would fail if I blew it.


Several people reached out to The Free Press after Knepper’s story ran earlier this month. Those people were directed to LCPS public information officer Patrick Holmes for assistance with helping Knepper.


Bridgette Patrovsky emailed the Free Press to help Knepper connect with computer gaming industries.


"Before moving to Kinston, I worked in the computer gaming industry for 25 plus years," Patrovsky said. "I would like to put some people in touch with him."


William Gothe, Smithfield Foods superintendent, contacted the paper to assist Knepper with having Wi-Fi.


"After seeing your article on this exemplary young man, I wanted to reach out and see if there was anything we could do to assist in getting him Wi-Fi at his home," Gothe said.


Alan Richard just wanted to thank The Free Press for covering Knepper’s story.


"I just wanted to say I was moved by your story on Cameron Knepper’s journey to access Wi-Fi to continue his studies," Richard said. "So important."


The Free Press story reached thousands of people and online readers praised Knepper for his dedication, offering him rides to school, and praying he finds Wi-Fi and scholarships for college.


One important comment came from Knepper’s mother.


"Thank you everyone on Cameron’s behalf," Ward said. "He is a very strong willed young man, and I think he does it to get away from his other three brothers and two sisters. LOL. We are signed up to get Wi-Fi installed on April 11th, and we’re getting two months free due to the school closures.


"It’s been difficult to pick up paper packets or drive him to school myself because I was working two jobs before the virus came. Now it’s only Walmart and I’m management. I am doing the best I can as a single parent, and I ask a lot of Cameron and his older brother Caleb on a daily basis. I’m grateful for the young man he’s growing into, and I’m very proud of him as I always have been."