"I figured, my dad's not rich, my mom's on her own, so someone needs to provide. You have to do it yourself. No one else can do it for you," she said.
State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas (D., Phila.) recalled that when he took office in 1989, "all the attention was on kids doing bad things."
He said he started the ceremony to acknowledge and encourage students who "are facing the same struggles, but doing good things." Honorees have gone on to careers on Wall Street, in state and local government, and in the private sector.
The keynote speaker, District Attorney Seth Williams, said the ceremony was a welcome change from his daily grind of prosecuting homicides, robberies, and other crimes. Academic success is one way to make his job easier, he said, pointing out that high school dropouts are eight times more likely to go to prison.
One award recipient, Anthony Keys, did leave school for a while. "I dropped out. I used to sell drugs, all kinds of things. But I came back to reclaim something that was rightfully mine," he said. He graduated at the top of his class at YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School and is headed to college.
Stephanie Santiago, who graduated from the military academy at Elverson High School, said the award "encouraged me to work harder because I know someone's paying attention." She's headed to Pennsylvania State University to study veterinary medicine and biomedicine.
The ceremony was at Temple's Mitten Hall, with the sponsorship of several local companies and organizations. The middle school honorees received $100 savings bonds and e-readers. The college-bound honorees received $100 savings bonds and laptop computers.
Contact Jessica Parks at 215-854-2771 or firstname.lastname@example.org.