More than a thousand high school seniors from across San Antonio pledged to continue their education after graduation Friday.
The annual event at the Alamo Convocation Center is a pep rally of sorts, celebrating students for choosing a college or a career in the military. The students filed in to music and cheers and sat under the banner of their future college or university.
Similar events are held across the country, but it has added importance in San Antonio. Less than half of Bexar County high school graduates enroll in a Texas college the following year, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Judson High School senior Serena Rayburn was one of dozens of students who committed to attending the University of Texas at San Antonio. She’s also joining the Navy.
She said she wants to go to college because she’s seen how her parents have struggled without degrees.
“My dad (is) always saying that he didn’t go to college, and he felt like he should have gotten a degree or gone to the military,” Rayburn said. “And then my mom not being able to finish college and her having a job that she absolutely hates, and I don’t want to be like that.”
Rayburn said she’s not sure how she would pay for college without her scholarships from the Navy. She plans to work for naval intelligence and then open a cosmetology business.
Travis Early College High School senior Madison Castillo, meanwhile, plans to complete her bachelor’s at St. Mary’s University before pursuing a law degree.
“Money had a lot to do with what school I was choosing, and it was really easier to stack scholarships with St. Mary’s,” Castillo said, adding that the university “felt like home” when she spent the night there and attended a class with current students.
John Jay High School seniors Jaylin Hastings and Jordan Choate sat with friends at the University of the Incarnate Word section, but have athletic scholarships to play football at Texas A&M-Kingsville.
“I decided to sign for them because not only are they very close to me, to San Antonio, but it’s just the right school to me for right now,” Hastings said. ‘I have some connections there that can help me.”
College signing day is modeled after athlete signing ceremonies. The idea is that every college acceptance should be celebrated, said San Antonio Education Partnership director Lisa Cunningham.
San Antonio Education Partnership organizes the event. It’s a nonprofit supported by the city that provides scholarships and help with college applications.
“We need to support every student, because our future leaders are going to be in that room today. And I want them to know how important and special they are,” Cunningham said. “Who knows, maybe they’ll be able to draw from this moment and be so pumped up that it’ll inspire them in the fall to go to that first class when they’re nervous about showing up.”
The Education Partnership’s goal is to encourage more students to continue their education after high school — and finish their degrees.
Cunningham said that’s important for both the region’s economy and the students’ futures.
“A lot of businesses are having to bring in the workers from other areas, from other communities because we just don’t have … enough educated students,” Cunningham said.
She said a lot of San Antonio’s parents don’t have college degrees, and that makes it less of a given that their children will go.
Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille