We seldom miss the opportunity to celebrate an achievement, whether it is a good report card, an acceptance into a competitive school, or a school graduation. However, with less than 15 percent of Baltimore City School students graduating from college, too often these important milestones simply never happen.
My audacious idea is that we celebrate the beginnings of our students’ successes with the same pomp and circumstance as the endings. Instead of waiting for the end of a journey, we should applaud our students’ commitment to putting in the effort to succeed. This will help students realize that what they are doing is great, that we see value in their efforts, and that we will support them in every step of their journey.
A strong start, filled with high expectations, commitment and opportunity, lays the ground work for future achievement. On November 3, 2009, Higher Achievement Baltimore held a “Commencement Ceremony” at Morgan State University to celebrate the beginning of 120 middle students’ journey through our year-round, four-year program. Students affirmed their commitments to putting in the time and effort to prepare for top high schools and successful futures. Meanwhile, parents, community members, and a cohort of 60 dedicated volunteer mentors who tutor two hours each week, committed to supporting the students in their journey.
This event set scholars off on their journey with support and confidence. During the ceremony, a keynote speaker asked students to honor themselves in saying, “I’m great.” After the chorus of voices died down, one student proudly announced, “I’m really great!” Without a commencement, this belief and voice might not have been felt or heard, and the expectation of greatness would not have been set for the students, parents, mentors, and community.