Proudly, Jeff Eakins displayed images of three graduating high school seniors before an auditorium filled with new teachers.
"But what you don't know," the Hillsborough County Public Schools superintendent said after each introduction, was what they overcame: hearing impairment, behavior problems and a childhood in foster care.
"We all have to remember that we can be the one for somebody," Eakins told 600 new teachers, kicking off their week of orientation at Armwood High School.
The superintendent's address, followed by welcoming remarks from the School Board chairwoman and the teacher's union, is an annual tradition that came early this year with school resuming Aug. 10.
In his remarks, Eakins focused on character, something he has made a priority since he assumed the district's top job in 2015.
"The workforce is looking for way more than people who are smart," he said.
He reminded the teachers that they must consider children's circumstances without lowering expectations for them.
"The only way we are going to be successful is if students feel like they are cared for every single day," he said.
He spoke of his belief in the 1970s concept of servant leadership, a theme School Board chairwoman April Griffin continued in her remarks. True servant leaders, she said, listen with attention, are empathetic and reflective. They are respectful, but not meek.
"Speak truth to power," Griffin told the teachers, exhorting them to speak up — to their principals or, if necessary, their area superintendents — if they have concerns about what is happening in their schools.
Following a year in which the district battled budget problems while changing course on key initiatives, the remarks by Eakins and Griffin were upbeat and encouraging.
The district's mentoring program, for example, has been expanded, they told the teachers. Help will be offered not only to those who are new to teaching, but also to veteran teachers who are new to the Hillsborough district.