Midtown: Community

Signing Day doesn’t have to just be about sports. Let’s celebrate academics – Wiggins

Signing Day traditionally is associated with athletic prowess and promise.

Not at The WELL.

Instead of recognizing touchdowns, RBIs and 3-pointers, it’s all academic at The Wade Edwards Learning Lab, where Wake County high school students take part in tutoring, mentoring, service learning and youth development programs that help them plan for life after high school.

The WELL’s second annual Senior Signing Day set the stage Wednesday, May 17, to highlight what the Class of 2017 achieved and also to declare what they’ll do to keep the academic ball rolling.

“They do Senior Signing Days for athletes, and we wanted to do something for our students,” said Betsey McFarland, The WELL’s executive director. “Not all of them play sports, but they’ve all worked hard and they’ve achieved something. Not just college aspirations, but they’ve done four years of high school and they have a plan for their life – at least for the next year, and we want to celebrate that.”

As an oft-considered nerd who only gifts books and educational toys at baby showers and kids’ birthday parties – at least until they can appreciate a gift card – it’s exhilarating.

Turns out, academic signing days keep bubbling up across the country in recent years, likely inspired by former first lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative urging students to take their education to the next level.

Catching up with high schools from Ohio to Arkansas and Texas to Massachusetts, a Washington, D.C. charter school earlier this month celebrated its first academic signing day, while a senior at an Illinois high school successfully campaigned to do the same.

It’s a trend that should spread to Wake County, Broughton High School senior Samantha Messie said.

“It needs to happen more often,” said Messie, 18. “Especially at the collegiate level, sports seem to be the center of attention. It’s awesome to celebrate student athletes, but it’s also very important to recognize there are students who take academics just as seriously as athletes take sports.

“And it’s important to be able to celebrate accomplishments and support each other in our future endeavors.”

Messie delivered the keynote speech on Senior Signing Day, where she revealed she chose Duke University out of nine college acceptances and plans to focus on African studies, global health and medical sociology.

In all, 18 of the 38 graduating “regulars” at The WELL this year announced plans for college or to join the military. Sixteen will attend UNC Pembroke, N.C. State, Wake Tech, North Carolina A&T State University, Luther College and Johnson & Wales. One student will become a soldier, and one will become a sailor.

Cristian Tompkins considered what’s happening now in America to settle on this announcement: He’ll attend Wake Technical Community College for classes he expects to lead to a career in cyber-security.

“With Raleigh growing with more business – and recent events of hacking here and in other countries, cyber security is a great field that will also grow exponentially in the next few years,” said Tompkins, 18.

Tompkins believes The WELL put him on track.

“I was very immature,” he said. “Without them I don’t think I would have been able to complete high school. I finally saw the potential in myself.”

The bright lights of an academic Signing Day empower others, he added.

“It’s a good way to boost spirits,” Tompkins said. “I wish it happened at all schools, where those who work academically hard are given the same limelight, the same glory that people who play sports do.

“We work just as hard, just not in the same way.”

Signing Day simply celebrates a traditionally private hoorah for academic prowess and promise – publicly, said Carlos Bautista, 17, another Broughton senior who relied on resources at The WELL to seal his plans to attend N.C. State University’s College of Engineering.

So, yes, cheers to celebrating academics – out loud!

“Academic success should always be celebrated,” Bautista said. “It encourages people to do well in school.”