On May 2, students in San Antonio, Texas will take part in an event that costs practically nothing, benefits the future of many, and brings joy to all. Schools everywhere would do well to take note, and consider doing likewise.
On that day, San Antonio will host its annual College Signing Day. More than 4,000 students will pack the University of Texas San Antonio Convocation Center, where they’ll sit according to their postsecondary school of choice, enjoying a bright spotlight on their college plans.
Younger students in San Antonio will no doubt take notice – because they’ll be participating in a week-long series of activities promoting college and career readiness at their middle and elementary schools.
It’s a simple and inexpensive way to celebrate our students, their accomplishments, and their futures.
As the President has made clear, the future of individual young people and of the economy as a whole depends on increasing the numbers of students who attend, and complete, college and other post-secondary training. A joyful event that helps to build a college-going culture can be part of that.
That’s why every district in America should consider having a College Signing Day to honor students who continue their education beyond high school. It’s something I wish I’d done during my time as CEO of Chicago Public Schools – and something that’s touched me emotionally when I’ve witnessed it.
Rural Berea, Kentucky is among the places showing the way. There, 150 students will celebrate their enrollment in two- and four-year colleges and universities this spring. On April 26, seniors will be joined by representatives from the colleges they will attend across Kentucky.
In 2010, I had the opportunity to be a part of YES College Prep’s College Signing Day in Houston. In the crowd of over 5,000 people, I was moved by the spirit that filled the room – a spirit that celebrated hard-fought accomplishments, and anticipated fulfilling futures. In that crowd, I saw hope for both individual students, and for our nation.
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The effects of College Signing Day last longer than a two-hour assembly. The event can shift the focus of an entire student body from high school graduation to postsecondary commencement. It shows younger students that they can aspire to more than athletic greatness: they can be great academically, too. It shows them that academic excellence is just as worthy of cheers, shouts, and photo ops as athletic prowess.
President Obama offered a similar message in his recent State of the Union address when he celebrated first-generation college student Estiven Rodriguez, a high school senior bound for Dickinson College in the fall. Estiven – who accompanied the First Lady to President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address – spoke no English when he arrived in America at age 9.
But Estiven didn’t rest on his accomplishments – instead, he chose to pay it forward, helping his peers at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning Schools (WHEELS) with their postsecondary aspirations.
In December, he did something that touched his school, his community, and ultimately, his country. As the President said, “he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications.” The teens, wearing WHEELS sweatshirts and holding a banner, served as an example that few could forget.
All students overcome challenges – whether they’re language barriers or tough homework assignments – to graduate high school and gain admission to college. Hosting a College Signing Day is an easy way for schools to embrace these challenges, and the students who overcame them.
In today’s knowledge-based, global economy, a postsecondary degree or certificate is more important than ever. The first step for students, and for our nation, is college acceptance.
This year, let’s celebrate that first step – and all the steps to come.
Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education