TAMPA — Dakeyan Graham literally burst into song Thursday when he was named Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year.
The King High School band director who goes by the nickname Dr. Dre - he does hold a Ph.D - delivered an acapella rendition of the hymn, “God is Awesome” before thanking Jesus Christ, his wife and daughter, his parents and grandparents, and his fellow educators for a moment that, he said, was even greater than he could have imagined.
He reminded his audience, borrowing a phrase from Superintendent Jeff Eakins, that they should “never forget your why" and endeavor every day to rediscover the passion that brought them into teaching.
Graham’s moment capped an evening of ceremony as the Hillsborough County School District celebrated its workforce in a Paris-themed event at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for Performing Arts.
Top honors for Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator and Instructional Support Employee of the Year went to Sandra Misciasci, a Newsome High School reading teacher; and Barbara Maxwell, a longtime secretary and former preschool aide at Dover Elementary.
Eakins took the opportunity to thank his staff of nearly 25,000 for contributing to Hillsborough’s rising graduation rates.
From the students who introduced the 13 finalists, the tributes were more personal.
Sava Pleak, now in college, described a difficult year at Newsome High, when she would eat lunch every day in Misciasci’s classroom. The reading teacher “made me feel like I had my personal life coach,” she said.
Maxwell, at Dover, was introduced by Ashley Patel, now a substitute teacher who is pursuing a career in education and remembered the secretary from her years as a preschool assistant. “She is such a giving woman,” Patel said.
Students described teachers who helped them overcome their fear of math, a custodian who helped with a recycling project, a third grade teacher at Foster Elementary - Tamon Williams - who was not too busy to take a child to get a haircut.
Ashley Curtis, an adult student at Caminiti Exceptional Center, recalled a day when physical education teacher Anne Smith saved her from a fall from the parallel bars. “Coach Anne is my hero,” she said.
For Graham, Thursday’s award follows decades of accomplishments in a career that has taken him full circle.
As an International Baccalaureate student at King, Graham played saxophone. He was a section leader. He won awards that are still on the band room wall.
He got his bachelors and masters at the University of Florida, involving himself in an honors music fraternity and the “Fighting Gators” marching band.
Then he returned to Tampa, where he took a teaching job at King and earned his doctorate at the University of South Florida.
The student who introduced him, senior Brehnen Walden, said Graham is the kind of teacher who is available to his students 24 hours a day and strives to send each of them home every day with a smile.
His mantra is “many Lions, one pride,” Walden said, and over time he came to understand the concept.
“He’s taught me patience, he’s taught me kindness," Walden said. "He’s taught me how to think with my head and not just do stuff.”
Graham has served as president of the Hillsborough County Secondary Music Council. He authored a high school African American heritage curriculum for secondary music.
He now has the opportunity to compete for the statewide title of Teacher of the Year.
Contact Marlene Sokol at email@example.com or (813) 226-3356. Follow @marlenesokol.