West Charlotte High School kicked off what administrators hope will become a tradition Thursday when nearly 100 students –about a third of the graduating class — gathered for “Decision Day,” an occasion to acknowledge and celebrate those going on to college or joining the U.S. military.
Graduating seniors at the Project LIFT school received more than $4.5 million in college scholarships, principal Timisha Barnes-Jones told the assembled crowd. About half the students stood to indicate that they were the first in their families to attend college.
Barnes-Jones said the ceremony was part of a larger pledge to “rewrite the headlines” at West Charlotte, were about 85 percent of the student body is African American and graduation rates, while improved, remain below district and state averages.
“This is a great day for West Charlotte High School,” Barnes-Jones said. “This event will become a tradition as we continue to become a culture of high expectations, academic achievement and pride.”
The students, seated at rows of tables behind placards printed with the names of their respective colleges or branch of military service, roared their approval. In total, 36 colleges and three military branches were represented – schools such as UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina State University, Johnson C. Smith University, Central Piedmont Community College and Appalachian State University.
National Decision Day is the creation of the College Advising Corps, which is working to increase the number of low-income and first-generation high school students entering and completing college. More than 600 Decision Day events will be held this month nationwide.
At West Charlotte, the Rev. Jacotron Potts, an associate minister at The Park Church, reminded the students of the hard work and support it took to reach their graduation milestone.
“Was there ever a moment when you felt like you wanted to quit?” he asked to the students’ widespread acknowledgement. “Thank you for not giving up when you thought you had to. Thank you for rising up when there was negative media who said different things about West Charlotte. And they should be lining the walls right now, because you all represent something that’s major.”
Potts shared his own story of struggle and determination, sharing that he was born to a 17-year-old student at West Charlotte High and went on to attend college.
“If you make the decision to do what’s necessary, you will succeed,” he said. “But here’s what I want you to understand: while we are celebrating what is happening right here, this is not it for you. You’re going to have to take it up another level. What you did here was good; it was a good foundation, but you’ve got to take it up another level.
“If you can develop your mind, you can reach heights that you never thought you could reach,” he added. “Some of you overcame people who wrote the headline that you’d never make it, but you did.”
Charlotte lawyer Eric Montgomery, who also spoke, reminded the students that difficult days still lay ahead.
“Your true character is going to be revealed through adversity,” Montgomery said. “Adversity tells you what you’re all about. Some people are going to fold, and some people are going to rise. Always be that person who rises.”
Where Are They Going?
Top 5 schools, in order of popularity, among 2016 West Charlotte High School graduating seniors:
• NC A&T (14 students)
• Central Piedmont Community College (11 students)
• North Carolina Central University (8 students)
• Winston-Salem State University (7 students)
• UNC Greensboro (7 students)