Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District

Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District News Article

Mock Graduation Inspires Collegiate Goals

Oct. 27, 2016 -- Research shows that if a child isn’t exposed to college as a realistic life path by the time they’re ten, they’re half as likely to ever enroll.

Katrina Hicks, principal at Gearity Professional Development School, is not about to let that happen.

“Graduating from high school is an automatic expectation for my students,” she says. “And going to college should be, too. I want that to be engrained in them from a young age.”

She has brought the idea of college to life for her students over the past three years with a mock college graduation ceremony for all students. Kindergarten through second grade students participate in a smaller ceremony at school, which Hicks admits is more for their parents.

“The little kids don't get it quite as much as the bigger kids do. But we know that parents need to begin focusing on their child’s college education as early as possible,” Hicks said.

Third through fifth graders participate in a full-blown commencement ceremony at John Carroll University, complete with speeches, diplomas, and caps and gowns, held this year on October 6.

The third grade students represented the Ohio University Class of 2030, the fourth graders were the Class of 2029 from John Carroll University and the fifth graders were the Class of 2028 from The Ohio State University.

The evening started with a processional of students, clad in black and gold caps and gowns filing into the Kulas Auditorium in front of a packed house of parents, siblings, grandparents, School Board President Kal Zucker and Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon.

They were greeted by Dr. Pamela Mason, Associate Dean of Social Sciences, Education and Global Studies at John Carroll, who looked far into their future: “I hope you will be reminded of this very happy moment when you sit in an auditorium on your own future campus and are recognized as college graduates.”

Following Dr. Mason’s welcome, it was the students’ turn to talk. Each student in all three grades had written a speech as part of a class language arts lesson. Grade level teachers selected the best to be read aloud at the ceremony.

The first was by third grader Dylan Lawson, so small that only the very top of his head was visible over the podium. Once Principal Hicks adjusted his microphone downward, he assumed the persona of a college graduate on the verge of his chosen career: lawyer. “I’ve always been known to get my point across in any debate or conversation,” he proclaimed to many laughs.

He also earned “Aaaawwws,” from his audience when he said that he was proud to be “a great example and role model for my baby brother.”

He was followed by fourth grader Matayis Mouncey, who had a pragmatic approach to his career: “I studied sports at college so that after my professional soccer career is over, I can still help young people as a sports psychologist.” He closed out by quoting his hero, world soccer superstar Lionel Messi of Argentina: “The best decision aren’t made with your mind, but with your instinct.”

Kira Williams, “M.D.” was up next. Another third grader too short to be seen over the podium, Kira was planning to enroll in the University of Southern California’s School of Medicine to become a pediatrician. Driven by a desire to “help little kids feel better so they can have a good childhood,” she ended her speech with words that are music to any teacher’s or parent’s ears: “I think it’s important that we take care of each other and this is one way I can make a difference in the world.”

The student speeches ended with fifth grader Nicholas Square, who was poised and clear and tall enough to be visible to his audience. He spoke of all he’d learned from his family, of his nerves and excitement for the future and of his plans to be an engineer or scientist.

His mother, ShaRan Marshall, congratulated Ms. Hicks for “this phenomenal program. It’s great for our kids to know that they will go on and succeed and graduate.” She said her son had given a speech “like a real college student. It’s bittersweet.”

Matayis Mouncey’s mother Kirsti agreed. “This makes me feel sort of sad because we only have twelve more years with them. This is an amazing community,” she added. “People coming together, supporting our kids, seeing their potential.”

Joi Ruffin, whose sons Darrien and Darryl Bush were both graduates, said the evening made her “excited for their futures and proud of them right now. Things like this give them hope and give them something to look forward to.”

Following the speeches, every child proceeded across the stage as their name was called to receive a diploma from Principal Hicks along with a lanyard that read, “College is not just the dream. It is the plan,” before posing for a photo.

In her closing remarks, Hicks reiterated that their college education does not start eight years from now, it starts today. “I hope this simple experience will ignite a desire and passion that will carry you throughout your lives.” She urged her students to never give up: “I need you to work as hard as you can. And then I need you work a little bit harder.”

She predicted they would be engaged in areas of study that have yet to be developed and jobs that have yet to be created. She mused on how her students could go on to “design the chip that will give 100% mobility back to a quadriplegic” or the doctor who cures cancer. And how they’ll say, “I did it because I attended Gearity Professional Development School and my parents and teachers all taught me that I could be anything I set out to be.”

Hicks closed out the evening speaking directly to her students: “I need you to grow up to be our future” and to their parents, “Their future starts right now. In 12, 13, 14 years, these beautiful little faces will be the faces of not only their futures, but of ours.”

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