In 2010, San Antonio embarked on a Community Visioning process. Spearheaded by former mayor Julián Castro and a committee of 26 community members, nearly 6,000 San Antonians agreed on what they wanted the city to look and feel like in the next decade. During that process, education rose to the top as a priority, which is measured, in part, by high school graduation and college attainment rates, as well as the number of professional certificates awarded. As such, in 2011, San Antonio hosted its first-ever, city-wide College Signing Day, a celebration for students who committed to reach beyond high school, whether that’s college or a university, trade school, or the military.
In nearly every conversation SA2020 has facilitated over the last decade, education continues to rise to the top as a priority for the community. And because of this, a group of dedicated organizations have continued to come together each year to celebrate San Antonio’s high school seniors. In fact, San Antonio set the precedent and helped launch national College Signing Days.
In 2014, San Antonio was selected as the launch site for Reach Higher, the initiative created by Michelle Obama that celebrates students who have chosen to go beyond high school and coordinates College Signing Days in communities across the United States. When San Antonio celebrates College Signing Day now, we know we are in good company. Our local celebration grew from showcasing the accomplishments of nearly 150 students in 2011 to 1,200 students in 2019.
When COVID-19 struck and local high school seniors (along with the rest of San Antonio’s students) were sent home, without the celebratory events that mark the end of the school year, the folks at San Antonio Education Partnership, UT Outreach San Antonio, Trinity University College Advising Corps, and SA2020 were not deterred. College Signing Day would happen; we would just have to take the event—including the cheering and high fives, mascot dance-offs, student performances, and meeting of future schoolmates—online.
On Friday, May 1, that’s exactly what we did. You can watch the two+-hour extravaganza here.
In the two weeks leading up to Virtual College Signing Day, the small but mighty team of partners, with support from UTSA, SAISD, and Alamo Colleges, set to work wrangling videos and photos of students in their college attire, collecting stats about the graduating class of various high schools, reaching out to higher education institutions and military representatives for welcome and congratulatory videos, and securing over $4,000 in giveaways for the student participants—including Whataburger for a year and Valero gas for a semester.
Russell Rush of 96.1 Now and DJ Men-YO signed on, once again, to help host. They’ve been doing this since 2012 and 2013 respectively, all because they love it. Surprise guests like Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Alamo Colleges Chancellor Dr. Mike Flores joined the program to share their words of encouragement with students and families that had tuned in. And we even had a check-in with Secretary Julián Castro, who was responsible for getting this all started back in 2011 while mayor of San Antonio.
And, like every year, we made the students the center of the event.
We introduced two students to one another—Adrianna from Harlan and Lauren from McCollum—who will both be attending NYU Tisch School of the Arts. We met Maria, the first student from YWLA to attend MIT. We heard from Calvin, who is attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. We learned what Maddy enjoys most about the culinary program at St. Philip’s College, where she’s already enrolled during her final year of high school. We even saw live performances from some of San Antonio’s most talented students. Olivia Barrón, a high school senior from MacArthur attending Berklee College of Music, performed a tune from Waitress. She is a finalist for Las Casas Foundation Joci Awards, which provides $100,000+ in scholarship to local theatre students. Nicholas Garcia-Hettinger, a senior at Brandeis High School, regaled us with a beautiful piece on his violin. He is a member of YOSA and will attend Eastman School of Music in the fall.
We celebrated students staying near and those going far.
In fact, the 241 local students that were featured on the Virtual College Signing Day stream, through photos, videos, interviews and performances, represent 52 area high schools and 80 higher education institutions/military branches or academies. We also had stats about 8,699 graduating students from 27 high schools: 83% applied to a higher ed institution, 62% will be first-generation college students, and, all together, the students were offered $140 million in scholarships. Over and over during the livestream, we were reminded that San Antonio’s future is in good hands.
Valero, In This Together, Whataburger, and Feliz Modern provided giveaways for student participants—meaning that all 241 students we featured were able to snag some goodies to support them in their transition. These giveaways also supported student engagement throughout the event, as students “filled” a virtual time capsule with items to explain the COVID-19 crisis to future generations. (Toilet paper and face masks rose to the top.)
And, in a city that struggles with a digital divide, we knew that providing WiFi would be critical so that students and families could join the celebration. VIA Transit, through their #VIACares program, came to the rescue on this one, sponsoring WiFi hotspots at the following high schools: Kennedy, Memorial, Edison, Highlands, Brackenridge, Burbank, and Lanier.
The quick shift to a virtual celebration—one that reached nearly 13,000 users on Facebook, with 6,100 unique viewers—is a testament to the impact a shared vision has on a community. If the past decade has taught us anything, it’s that we are infinitely stronger when we work together. We are so proud to be a part of the group who works tirelessly to support San Antonio’s students in their pursuits and celebrate their accomplishments.