A large group of local high school seniors gathered in city hall Monday night for a College Signing Day event, where Mayor Buddy Dyer and other city officials celebrated the students’ pledges to continue their education after graduation this year.

The event was part of the “Reach Higher” initiative pushed by First Lady Michelle Obama, which aims to celebrate students going to college the same way athletes and celebrities are celebrated. Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said that while she thought it was important to celebrate athletes, every student going to college deserved to be recognized.

“We celebrate athletic accomplishments, but also academics,” she said in a press conference after the event. “We’re just as proud of young people going in for academic programs. In America, every student willing to work hard can have a future.”

Fifty students from local Orlando schools came up to the stage one by one and announced to the audience gathered in the council chambers which college they’d be going to.

Then, Dyer handed a $1,000 Kevin Tyjeski scholarship – named after a longtime city employee who passed away in 2013 – to local student and recent Jones High School graduate Stevenson Bassy, 18.

In a speech addressing the crowd, Bassy talked about his upbringing in the Parramore neighborhood, which he described as rough.

“Many people look at my background and said, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” he began. “It was a tough experience, most of my life. Both of my parents sacrificed a lot. Parramore is one of the toughest neighborhoods. There was lots of crime, lots of teen pregnancy. I’m thankful that my parents enforced education and understood that education was the greatest equalizer.”

He closed by saying that he looked forward to coming back after graduation and helping out kids in his neighborhood who are growing up like he did, with little money and whom the rest of the world might not see hope for.

Bassy will be attending the University of Florida.

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