It seemed more like a college draft day than a high school tradition. Young men step to a podium, don a school cap and announce to a crowded room who they are and where they will be attending college.
Every one of them gets a round of applause.
This is signing day, tradition in its second year at Urban Prep Charter Academy, signifying that all 104 graduates of this year’s senior class have been accepted to college.
"Signing day is a meaningful ritual that reinforces Urban Prep’s mission that our students graduate high school and succeed in college," said CEO Tim King.
The students, dressed in blue blazers and striped ties, gathered at U.S. Cellular Field for this year’s ceremony, which included a lunch and a Sox game.
Sox General Manager Kenny Williams told the group that he is proud to see African American men of their age making a commitment to becoming a success. But he said that they must now "throw a rope to others in their community and help them climb up."
Strict discipline and dress codes are only part of the all-male Urban Prep formula. It also includes a school day that is two hours longer than those found in many of Chicago public schools. The extra time gives students the equivalent of five years of class time in four-year span.
It’s a formula Mayor elect Rahm Emanuel, who attended the signing day ceremony, would like to see spread to other Chicago schools.
It’s also a formula colleges and universities say produces successful freshmen.
"There is a system of expectation," said Quinton Clay of Iowa’s Grinnell College. "It’s all about the attitude that students will apply themselves in the classroom and in the community."
Raheem Cooper Thomas announced Wednesday he would be attending Morehouse College in Atlanta. He said what makes the Urban Prep program different is the support of the faculty and staff.
"It's people who literally spend hours and hours after the school day helping you write your essays and apply for scholarships," he said.
While 100 percent of Urban Prep's graduating seniors are going to college, King admits that 30 percent of incoming freshman eventually transfer out because of the school's rigorous cirriculum.
The signing part of Signing Day came at the end when each senior wrote his name and the college he will be attending in what the school calls its "Credimus Book." The book will serve as an inspiration to future classes that if they work hard and believe in themselves, they too can follow the class of 2011 into college.