Dominique Green ‘18 took a deep breath, re-adjusted the podium microphone and began her introduction of guest speaker and University of Oregon graduate Jason Nikolao.

“One memory I have of Mr. Niko is when we were freshmen watching ‘Friday Night Lights,’” she said. “Man. I hated that movie. But Mr. Niko told me there was a message behind it. After watching the movie, the message I got was: ‘Fight to fulfill your destiny and live your dreams.’ That’s the message I want to give all y’all.”

Moments earlier, Green’s fellow seniors in the LEAD Academy Class of 2018 had walked into Curb Center to the sounds of 2,400-plus cheering students, friends and family members. It was their turn to take part in LEAD’s traditional Senior Signing Day inside Belmont University’s Curb Event Center

And they rocked it.

Each student had the opportunity to declare for the first time their next step in their educational journey. For the fifth consecutive year, a LEAD Academy senior class earned 100 percent college acceptance. This Signing Day also held special significance as students got a chance to hear from a member of LEAD’s first college graduating class Temiloluwa Thomas ‘14 who graduated from MTSU last Saturday.

Temi provided insight from the other side— and encouraged students and graduates to persevere through challenges and finish what they have started.

“To every other student here today, please keep pushing,” she said. “Keep trying. Keep doing. Take your opportunities seriously because one day, and it’s sooner than you think, you, too, will be celebrated at Senior Signing Day.”

Interim CEO and Board Chair Dwayne Tucker reminded everyone that the event is first for the students on stage— but it’s also for each student in the stands. He encouraged every one of the students in attendance from all six LEAD schools to pay close attention.

“Our Senior Signing Day is an event when we celebrate this incredible accomplishment,” Dwayne said. “It is also an opportunity to challenge every other single student in attendance to picture themselves on this very stage announcing where they will attend college.”

LEAD Senior Jakiya Kendrick ‘18, who is bound for Mount Saint Mary’s University in the fall, spoke for her class and shared the significance of this day in preparing her fellow classmates to pursue their dreams.

“In today’s society, odds seem to be constantly pinned against us, making us believe that we can’t succeed in this world,” she said. “I believe that these odds, this discrimination, makes us feel like being born a minority is a curse. And that no matter how hard you try that’s all we’ll ever be. But if there’s one thing LEAD Academy has taught me is that we are not cursed. We are powerful and we can succeed. No matter what.”

Keynote Speaker and former LEAD Academy teacher Jason “Niko” Nikolao reflected on his time with the Class of 2018 and affirmed that their journey with LEAD doesn’t end here. They would always have a family in LEAD— through life’s triumphs and tragedies.

“This idea of sticking together and celebrating our triumphs and as well as leaning on each other through our hardships and sorrows is a notion I want you to hold onto,” Nikolao said. “From the smallest LEAD students to the recent college graduates you are not alone. You are never alone. You have a family.”

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