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Emanuel praises drop-outs who came back to graduate at Collins

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during commencement address Collins Academy High School. | John H. White~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during the commencement address at Collins Academy High School. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 24, 2011 12:22AM

Mayor Emanuel focused on two high-school dropouts during his keynote address Saturday to the graduating class of Collins Academy High School.

But that’s because Aaron Johnson and Joshua Cook — who had dropped out — eventually came back to the West Side school, earned their diplomas, and are now university-bound.

In fact, almost 100 percent of the graduates at the school in poverty-stricken North Lawndale are going to college.

“Nothing means more to me as mayor,” Emanuel said. “These are the kids who represent Chicago’s best values.”

The few members of Collins’ graduating class who weren’t college-bound chose to enter the military.

Emanuel said he related to the struggles of Johnson and Cook, sharing a story about the seven weeks he spent in a hospital after cutting off the tip of his finger while working at an Arby’s restaurant at age 17 to earn money for college. “They overcame adversity,” Emanuel said of the two former dropouts. “They now have the means to succeed.”

Cook plans to attend Harper College, and Johnson is headed to Philander Smith College, Collins officials said.

Emanuel had visited Collins, at 1313 S. Sacramento, during his mayoral campaign, and he said he had promised the students he would return for graduation. Emanuel said Collins is a prime example of a turnaround school. It was closed, then reborn — along with a teacher training academy — in 2007. Saturday’s group was the first graduating class since the re-opening.

Also Saturday, Emanuel attended the first graduation ceremony ever for the four-year-old Marine Math and Science Academy, run by the U.S. Marine Corps at 145 S. Campbell.

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