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A big decision, a declaration, and a future of hope for these soon-to-be Detroit high school graduates

Marqell McClendon, 17, a senior at Cody High School in Detroit, holds up her letter of intent to attend Michigan State University.
Marqell McClendon, 17, a senior at Cody High School in Detroit, holds up her letter of intent to attend Michigan State University.
Anthony Lanzilote

One by one, the students walked up to the podium in the small auditorium at Cody High School. They looked at their cheering peers. And then they made a big declaration about their futures.

“I, Jericho Roundtree, will be attending Central Michigan University in the fall of 2019, majoring in communications.”

“I, Ca’Nae Murphy, will be attending Schoolcraft College in the fall of 2019, majoring in biology.”

“I, Joseph Thomas, will be attending Davenport University in the fall of 2019, majoring in industrial management.”

“I, Marqell McClendon, will be attending Michigan State University in the fall of 2019, majoring in epidemiology.”

And so it went Thursday morning at Cody, one of dozens of schools — mostly in Detroit — that are participating this month in College Decision Day with events where students declare their postsecondary plans.

It’s modeled after the NCAA’s National Signing Day, when athletes publicly declare where they’ll play college sports — often to much fanfare — but in this case the intent is to emphasize that success in the classroom should be celebrated as much as success on the playing field.

And that’s particularly important in Detroit, where 45 percent of the students who graduated from the city’s main school district during the 2017-18 school year enrolled in a community college or four-year university within six months of graduation. Statewide, the number was 60 percent.

Anthony Lanzilote

The Detroit College Access Network, which connects schools to college advisers who help students prepare for postsecondary education, facilitated the signing day events.

At Cody, dozens of students filled one of the school’s auditorium — many of them wearing shirts that previewed where they’re going to school. Some also wore red sunglasses that were given out shortly before the event.

Antoine Douglas, one of the college advisers at the school, said about 82 of the 125 students who make up the senior class plan to continue their education beyond high school.

Anthony Lanzilote

The soon-to-be graduates walked up onto the stage in groups of four, where they sat down at a table and signed their letters of intent. Douglas was the hype man during the event, enthusiastically calling the students up to the stage and announcing them as they walked to the podium. When the students were done, they had their pictures taken holding up their declaration letters.

At the end, they heard from Justin Armstrong, another of the school’s college advisers. Armstrong told them that the day marked an important milestone in a critical year.

“I am so proud of each and every one of you,” Armstrong told them.

Jericho, the senior class president, said the theme of the day was that “everyone has hope.”

“It’s really a celebration of all of the hard work we’ve done,” said Marqell, the valedictorian. “It meant a lot.”

Anthony Lanzilote

The significance of the event was personal for students like Joseph, who said he’s the first in his immediate family to go to college.

“I’m breaking the chain,” said Joseph, who earned a scholarship to play football at Davenport University in Grand Rapids.

The schools the students chose were as varied as their planned majors. Trinity Allen had just decided earlier in the day that she would attend Purdue University in Indiana.

“My mind and my heart told me this was the right choice,” she said.

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