Redeemed Vick bolsters 2nd-chance grads

Vick
Vick
Posted: June 11, 2011

The commencement address yesterday for graduates who took advantage of a second - or third - shot at an education was given by a man who knows all about getting a second chance in Philadelphia.

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick spoke to about 450 graduates of Camelot Academy in the Kimmel Center.

"As you have chosen me, I have chosen you," Vick said. "I have chosen you to succeed, and I believe in you."

During the ceremony, Vick also surprised two students with $5,000 scholarships, and asked them to use his story as an example of the power of redemption.

Camelot Academies serve at-risk students who were expelled, dropped out or have aged out of traditional public schools.

During the ceremony, the ovation for teachers of the year lifted the audience to its feet. Before Mayor Nutter spoke to the graduates, in contrast, the boos were deafening.

The future of Camelot Academy, which operates five accelerated schools in Philadelphia, is uncertain as budget cuts may force the program to close.

"I don't know why there's a debate going on," Nutter said during the ceremony. "Because if anyone knew anything about accelerated schools, they would know that in many instances this school may be the only reason that many of you are graduating here today."

In May the district announced that it would cut funding to accelerated schools to save roughly $25 million to help close a $629 million budget gap.

A district spokeswoman said it wasn't clear yet how deeply Camelot will be affected by budget cuts.

In their blue-and-white caps and gowns, graduates yesterday were hopeful that they wouldn't be the program's last.

"It's a mixed feeling, because a lot of kids [like us] need a Camelot school," said Quetta Matthewson, who graduated from Camelot Academy at Wynnefield.

Matthewson said she struggled to control her emotions at Benjamin Franklin High School and was suspended nearly every week before almost being expelled.

"What are they gonna do with all them kids, throw them in jail? That's for the birds," Matthewson said.

"It's impossible. They cannot lose their funding - it means too much," said Belinda Jennings, Matthewson's mother.

"She's talking about going to college," Jennings said, a grin spreading across her face. "She never talked about college."

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