EAST TAMPA ó Everyone screamed in awe when they announced the four students that were awarded scholarships and administrators struggled to quiet the noise as the auditorium quickly filled with chaotic energy.
The seniors could not hold back their excitement as they cheered each other on, yelling "get it girl" and "Class of 2018 we did it."
Students rushed on stage to sign "letters of intent" and receive T-shirts that read "College Bound" on the front and "HCC+ Middleton High School Finish Strong" along the back.
Some danced across the stage in celebration and many already wore their shirts before they even walked off the stage.
Middleton High School held Signing Day on April 11 to give nearly 200 students the same excitement an athlete experiences when signing their letter of intent.
"This is a big deal," principal Kim Moore said. "We know that many of the students within the community may not have the financial means for college, so opening that door for them will not only change their lives, but will impact future generations."
For some high school students, college stands as a given ó as certain as elevating from one grade to the next. For some Middleton students, however, financial or academic reasons diminished the reality of higher education.
About four years ago, Middleton had less than a 50 percent graduation rate, but now Moore and Thomas Rivers, the schoolís career and college counselor, point to an increase thanks in part to a burgeoning relationship with Hillsborough Community College. Over the last three years, the graduation rate has increased to 90 percent and nearly 200 students have been accepted into HCC when before it wasnít an option.
"Itís been a long three years, but I think we found a good niche this year," Rivers said.
The program included a presentation from Althea Walker, the customer service manager with Hillsborough County Schools who captured everyoneís attention with a reference to rapper Drakeís hit song Godís Plan to encourage students to focus on their plan. She gave them outlines and pens to write down their career goals.
"Weíre just planting the seeds for them," Walker said. "May 25th is just a day, they have their whole lives after that."
In addition to her presentation, the program included speeches from Superintendent Jeff Eakins, HCC president Kenneth Atwater, Keith Berry, interim president of HCCís Ybor campus.
Eakins congratulated students and offered words of wisdom reminding them to stay focused on the path that lies ahead of them.
"It only takes one bad choice to deter you off your path."
Atwater took influence from a Nelson Mandela quote: "Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world," and shared his personal journey to success as a way of encouraging students to continue their education after HCC.
HCC comes to Middleton High School every year to stress the importance of college, offering guidance that includes helping students complete their applications and federal financial aid forms.
"Now itís more important than ever to have higher education to compete in todayís workforce," Atwater said. "Itís been a great partnership with Middleton High School. Weíre glad to be involved and give kids an opportunity."
Berry concluded the ceremony by instructing students how to be successful at HCC as well as life.
"You must finish what you started," Berry said. "Remember where you come from and donít forget your community. Itís not only about you, itís about your community, your state, and the country."
Contact Monique Welch at [email protected]