With over 11, 000 graduates taking part in commencement ceremonies during graduation season, it’s hard for Superintendent Jeff Eakins to hear all of their stories. But he’s found a way to meet with a few special graduates who are eager to share their stories of triumph and inspiration with the Superintendent.
Just before each graduation ceremony begins, Eakins is meeting with at least one student from each high school to personally hear about the journey of this year’s graduates. There are 40 graduation ceremonies taking place in Hillsborough County between May 15 and May 22.
Dressed in their caps and gowns, the students share a bit about their struggles and victories and Eakins is eager to congratulate each one and thank them for their dedication and perseverance.
Some of the students have overcome illness or recently arrived from foreign countries. Some have been homeless but still managed to make it to school every day. Some students are at the top of their class but still managed to find the time to help those in need.
The students share a laugh and a moment of celebration as they reflect on how the school has prepared them for life.
Each school selected the student who is honored this way and the student was also invited to include a staff member who was instrumental in their success. Photos are taken and later, they will receive a copy of the photo and a letter of thanks for sharing their special moment.
Ashley Cable, a student at Simmons Career Center, represented her school. Ashley struggled with her GPA early in her high school career, but she found the will to persevere and is now graduating on time. She said having the chance to share her story and what the staff at Simmons has done for her meant a lot.
“All of the teachers at Simmons are there to help the kids - that is why they are at that school. They believe in us and with that we have the motivation to become the best we can be,” Ashley said. “I'm proud to be chosen to represent Simmons, but I am one of many kids who have overcome a rough life in order to earn my diploma."
This is the second year Superintendent Eakins is taking time for these student encounters. He said he wants to let students know how much their accomplishment means to him.
“Their stories are so inspiring and sometimes we don’t know how much our students have had to overcome to make it to graduation day,” he said. “I wanted them to know that our district believes in them and that we are honored to play a role in the successful and responsible citizens we know they will become.”