For the third consecutive year, all of the graduating seniors from the Englewood campus of Urban Prep Academies is college-bound.
"I'm the first generation to graduate, and it's really an honor and also I want to continue my family's chapter and history on completing and earning a degree in college," said James McKinley Jackson, the president of the graduating class.
Friday's ceremony was deeply symbolic. With Gov. Pat Quinn looking on, 85 seniors exchanged their red uniform ties for collegiate stripes in Urban Prep's red and gold colors.
"Urban Prep changed me as a student and as a young man as a whole," said Vernon Cheeks, who has been accepted to Indiana State University. "Mainly, from me becoming an average student and seeking my full potential of being an above-average student.
The students' success defies negative data on African-American male achievement while bringing international recognition to the school by education leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
But some have criticized Urban Prep for its numbers and allegations that some students drop out in order to prevent tarnishing the school's record. They're charges Urban Prep's founder and CEO refutes.
"It's just not true. We're incredibly committed to each and every student when they walk in the door. Urban Prep is a school of choice. There are students who choose to come here and there are students who choose to leave," said Tim King. "I have a saying, 'We don't throw kids away. Even those who think they want to be discarded.' So we give students chance after chance after chance and do everything we can to keep them here."
The school also announced a newly-created partnership with the United Negro College Fund to help provide scholarship support to Urban Prep graduates to ensure continued success.
"Stand your ground gentlemen. Stand your ground each and everyday and I promise you that Urban Prep will be standing with you 100 percent," said King.