Grad Day for Tampa Bay 2017 was a huge success! Held Thursday, March 2nd in the Hilton Tampa Downtown, students and community members from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties came together to raise graduation rates for the entire region by focusing on building youth-adult partnerships.
The students were the stars of Grad Day. Over 200 youth from 15 Pinellas and Hillsborough high schools attended alongside school district staff, CEOs and community leaders. Jubilee, a Jefferson High School senior, opened the event and told adults, “The Alliance for Public Schools has taught me about partnerships. Students need adults. We will steer but you need to be the car.”
In addition, students facilitated break out sessions with adults. The sessions were highly interactive and collaborative with adults and youth working side by side. “It was a privilege and an honor to serve as a facilitator today,” said Victor, a sophomore from Jefferson High School.
March 2nd was also Read Across America Day, which celebrates Dr. Seuss’s birthday. During lunch, Dr. Seuss themed decorations were added to the table centerpieces and students from Northeast High School performed a reading of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Grad Day audience members were given Dr. Seuess bookmarks and read along with the students on stage.
Thaddesu O’Neil, also known as WWE’s Titus O’Neil, inspired everyone with his very personal keynote address. He told the audience, “I was told I was a bad kid so I started to believe it.” When a teacher told him there is no such thing as a bad kid, he said that it changed his life. This person loved him unconditionally and asked for nothing in return. Now, he spends his life giving back and told the audience, “The most important thing you need to do is find a way to pay it forward.” He also told the students to be true to themselves and not fall into the trap of trying to be someone they are not. He said, “Nobody can be a better you than you. So, be the best version of you.”
Grad Day ended with a recognition of the students that have participated with the Student Alliance for the last three years. Melissa Erickson, Executive Director of the Alliance, said, “The problem with graduation work is that when you’re successful, your students graduate and leave!” It is certainly bittersweet to see another group of amazing student leaders leave the nest, but we couldn’t be more proud! Oh, the places you’ll go!!