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Rahm Emanuel celebrates a record graduation rate

Rahm Emanuel's DMayor

Rahm Emanuel's Da Mayor

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Updated: July 12, 2012 6:07AM

It was commencement weekend in Chicago and this year we have a lot to celebrate. For the first time on record, Chicago Public Schools have achieved higher than a 60 percent graduation rate. A higher percentage of those graduates are enrolling in college next year than in any year since CPS started keeping records. I had the honor of speaking to the Class of 2012 at Morgan Park High School where 80 percent of seniors are graduating, as well as at Golder College Prep where 100 percent of seniors are graduating.

This year’s record graduation rate demonstrates that when you give teachers the tools, time and techniques they need, there’s no limit to what Chicago’s students can achieve.

To anyone who doubts that every school in every neighborhood can achieve excellence, I want them to see what I saw this weekend at Christ the King Jesuit Prep in Austin. In a neighborhood where less than half of kids finish high school and even fewer go off to college, 100 percent of Christ the King’s seniors are graduating and 100 percent of them are going to college.

In a neighborhood plagued by one the city’s highest rates of drug-related violent crime, a school that is 99 percent African-American and 1 percent Hispanic is sending each one of its seniors to great colleges like DePaul, Marquette, the University of Illinois and many more.

I first visited Christ the King last year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, before I was elected mayor. I wanted to visit specifically on that holiday because, in my view, equality of education is one of the great civil rights issues of our time. Nowhere do you feel a greater sense of Dr. King’s “fierce urgency of now” than at Christ the King.

When you walk outside that school building in Austin, you see the boards on the houses, and crime on the streets and liquor stores where there should be grocery stores. When you walk inside that building, you see college banners on the wall, students on the honor roll and teachers on a mission. I saw that the potential inside that building was far more powerful than any of the problems outside. My goal is for every student in every neighborhood to have the equality that comes from a quality education. Against big obstacles and long odds, Christ the King is achieving that goal.

At the end of my visit, I told the school’s president, Father Devron, that if he was able to graduate every one of his seniors, then, win or lose in the mayoral campaign, I wanted to come speak at the graduation. This weekend I got my wish.

My message to the graduates was simple. They had every excuse available for why they couldn’t graduate or go to college. But instead of settling for other’s people’s easy excuses, they set their own high expectations. Their accomplishment this weekend stands as a rebuke to anyone who adopts a cynical attitude about what the students of Chicago, even in the roughest neighborhoods, can accomplish.

To all the naysayers who just write-off certain kids from ever graduating high school, I want them to come to a school like Christ the King and say that. To anyone who casually says that because of his or her background a kid can’t go to a great college, I want them to come to Christ the King and say that. And to anyone who says that teachers just can’t succeed in certain neighborhoods, or certain schools, or with certain kids — I want them to come to Christ the King and say that to the teachers and staff. I’m confident of what their response would be.

100 percent of those students are going to college because they have given 100 percent of themselves. They proved themselves, and they proved that success depends on two essential things: a parent at home who loves them unconditionally and a teacher at school at school who believes in them wholeheartedly.

You can see that basic formula working across the city. If we can double-down, then we can achieve another record CPS graduation rate next year.  

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