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upworthy

graduation

Xavier Jones is given his scholarship to Harris-Stowe Stete University in St. Louis.

A story out of St. Louis shows how some students have to overcome many more barriers than others on their road to success. But in this student's case, people in important positions recognized his perseverance and rewarded him in a way that could make his future less of a struggle.

According to a report from KAKE, 14-year-old Xavier Jones had no ride to his 8th-grade graduation ceremony, so he walked six miles to pick up his diploma.

“I was going to tell an adult, but my grandpa’s car was down. So I was just going to walk there,” he told KAKE.

Jones was graduating from Yeatman Middle School, but the ceremony was held at Harris-Stowe State University, a public historically-Black university in St. Louis.

“I looked up Harris-Stowe University on Google Maps and then I saw the walking distance and then I said I could probably make it,” Xavier told KAKE. “I wanted to walk across the stage.”


Knowing it would be a long walk, he brought along his brother and friend for the journey. To get from his home in West Florissant to Harris-Stowe State University took them two and a half hours.

Darren Seals, Jones’ mentor, called attention to the student's incredible dedication during a speech at the ceremony.

“I had to stop my speech and call him on board and was like, ‘Hey, everybody get off your feet and give him a standing ovation,'” Seals told Fox 2. “They clapped for him. They were like, ‘Woah, this boy walked.'”

Jones’ journey also caught the attention of Dr. Latonia Collins Smith, the president of Harris-Stowe State University, who was impressed by his determination.

“When I heard that story and to see that young man who was so bright and excited and driven,” President Collins Smith said. “It spoke volumes to me. It spoke resilience, persistence, perseverance. Regardless of what the adversity is, I’m going to press my way to this promotion ceremony. So that is what sparked my interest in saying, ‘Hey, this is the type of kid that we want to recruit to Harris-Stowe.”

President Collins Smith sees Jones as an example of the many barriers that students in the area face to getting an education. “Many of our students come with a story and many of our students come with environmental barriers they have overcome or that they are currently overcoming,” President Collins Smith told KAKE.

To reward his incredible dedication, the school gave him a full-ride scholarship for when he graduates high school. The scholarship includes four years of tuition, books and student fees.

When Jones heard he got a “free ride” to college, he thought it meant transportation. When Seals explained it was a scholarship, Jones couldn’t believe it. “Wait a minute, I don’t have to pay for college?” he asked Seals.

Jones hopes he can be a NASCAR driver after he graduates college.

“At the end of the rainbow, there’s a pot of gold. I learned a lot from Xavier that day," says President Collins Smith. "Even on your worst day, keep pressing forward.”

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

graduates

Have you ever thought, “Man, I sure wish someone would just hand me a check or at least some stock in a successful company”? The way rent, gas and everything (gestures broadly at the entire economy) is going right now, an unexpected windfall would be helpful to most people, but especially to high schoolers heading off to college or beginning their journeys as young adults.

That’s exactly what happened to the graduating class of Snellville, Georgia's Brookwood High School. The co-founder of Airbnb (and former graduate of Brookwood High), Joe Gebbia, surprised the graduating class of 2022 with shares in his company. Each graduate will receive 22 shares of Airbnb stock. Obviously the kids can’t immediately spend the stocks, though if they wanted to sell them for college supplies instead of hanging on to them and watching their value grow they could, I guess.


Gebbia graduated from the school in 2000 and announced during his speech the gift he had for all 890 graduating seniors. The gift amounts to around $2,428.80 per graduate, which is certainly more than most receive in a graduation card. In total the co-founder gifted the students more than $2 million in Airbnb stock. It wouldn’t be surprising if the newly graduated teens have no idea what to do with their new stock given that most high schools don’t really go over investing and stock market rules.

William Smith, who was a recipient of the generous gift, told the Gwinnett Daily Post that he may ask his grandfather, who is well-versed on the stock market, what to do with his shares as he’s still trying to figure out what to do with the stock. Smith told the paper, “Everybody right now is still amazed and in shock that he gave such a generous gift to us. People haven’t really thought long term. People are just like, ‘Wow, he came back and was just so generous.’ Talk about not forgetting your roots.”

This isn’t the first time the co-founder has given back to his old high school. Last November, he donated $700,000 to the school to create and fund the Joe Gebbia Visual Arts Endowment. The money will also create immersive resources for student athletes that attend Brookwood High.

The new high school graduates had no idea they’d be leaving school with shares in a global company and getting an opportunity to start building a stock portfolio. Hopefully this boost will be just what they need to head into adulthood with the potential for more financial security.

Photo by Alisa Reutova on Unsplash

Skilled workers are in short supply and fewer young people are choosing trade school track.

It’s graduation season and high school seniors are enduring their last few days of classes before the last summer of their childhood. The summer after high school ends is special, with graduation parties and friends getting ready to take off around the country to pursue their next path. Though many are off to university to make their, or their parents', dream come true, not every high school grad wants to go off to a four-year college. And schools don’t always do a good job in informing high schoolers of their choices outside of college and the military.

The conversation around college seems to start earlier than it used to. My own children started being asked about college plans around sixth grade, and the pressure has only mounted with every passing year. When my eighth grader announced in a school meeting that he already had a college and degree path chosen, the teachers were outwardly excited and praised him for knowing what he wanted to do. It's an awful lot of pressure to put on 12-14-year-olds.

College is expensive and financially unattainable for many families. The looming expense of a college education can lead to parents putting pressure on their children to perform exceptionally to procure highly competitive scholarships.


Pressure to perform at elite levels academically and in sports in an effort to reduce the cost of attending college can result in students feeling overwhelmed. My own child struggled under the weight of expectations he felt from teachers, until one day he came to me and quietly said, “I don’t think I want to go to college.” I simply replied “OK” before explaining that college doesn’t have to be everyone’s path and we could explore options outside of a four-year institution. The audible exhale from his lungs told me everything I needed to know at that moment.

Kids absorb many things that go unsaid. I never told him that it was expected that he go to college, but I also didn’t talk about other options, so in essence the message I was sending was that college is the only next step. My son became more and more consumed by the expectation to get near-perfect grades and excel at band and other things to secure a scholarship to schools he didn’t even want to attend. His story isn’t unique. Teens across America are suffocating under the pressure to perform for the grand prize of scholarships and a fancy piece of paper, all while trades are struggling to fill positions.

Photo by Enis Yavuz on Unsplash

People that do essential work in our homes and on our vehicles cannot fill positions because not enough students are exiting trade schools. Mechanics, welders, plumbers, electricians, every skilled trade you can think of is in a shortage because schools and parents don’t give trades the same attention as they do four-year college degree options. The median age of a skilled tradesperson is 43 and at the current rate many will retire in a little more than a decade’s time leaving more vacancies. Sure we want our children to succeed in life but a bachelor’s degree doesn’t automatically equal success. Skilled trades oftentimes pay more money than entry-level positions that require a four-year degree, so why aren’t we encouraging our children to explore these interests?

It seems as if America has gotten caught up in an endless loop of pushing and expecting college from students, only for students to graduate with exorbitant amounts of debt. Then the cycle repeats for the next generation. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Ultimately my son decided to change his track in high school from four-year college track to trade school track. This only affects the classes he will take for graduation. Instead of taking three years of a foreign language and four years of advanced math, he will get to skip the unnecessary classes and go straight into automotives. After graduating, he will have one year of credits toward the two-year automotive certification.

Attending the local community college will be a fraction of the price of a four-year college, and only require one additional year before he can go into the workforce. No debt would be acquired and he would be doing what he enjoys. This isn’t to say he can’t change his mind and decide later to attend a four-year university; we would support any path he chose. It’s just a reminder to listen to our words. Pay attention to the things we aren’t saying. Make our children aware of every option, not just the traditional track.

Photo by Josh Olalde on Unsplash


Attending a trade school is a valid option, not merely an alternative to college. Trade schools are higher education and shouldn’t be reserved for students adults think “aren’t cut out for college,” because the truth of the matter is, many trade school certificate holders are just as intelligent or more so than degree holders. We need to let go of preconceived notions about the trades and start focusing on what our children are good at and encourage the pursuit of that at whatever level they choose.

Jada Sayles/Twitter

Jada Sayles got both a newborn baby and her college degree.

You know what they say about the best laid plans? Well, it's true. And no one knows that better than Jada Sayles. On May 15, Sayles was all set to graduate from Dillard University, a historically Black university in New Orleans. Around 4:30 a.m., she realized that her plans were about to change in a big way. Instead of getting ready for her graduation, she was in labor and being admitted to the hospital.

"I thought I was gonna walk across the stage to get my degree, instead I got my baby," Sayles tweeted, along with a series of photos. "My sweet face decided to make his way on MY big day (now his). Shoutout to my university for still bringing my graduation and degree to me."


That's right, even though her sweet baby kept her from walking the stage at her graduation, all was not lost. Her college stepped up and made sure that she was still able to experience her graduation to the fullest.

"Jada went into labor on Friday evening. Texted me around 4:30 am Saturday saying she was being admitted, & the baby was born on her graduation day, May 14th. So we rolled up to the hospital so I could finish my tenure in the most special way," Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University tweeted.

"I did something today I have never done before in 18 years as a college president. I conferred a degree in a hospital…" Kimbrough stated in another tweet. It's clear that he is a very involved and caring administrator.

He shared a video of his bedside speech, captioning the tweet: "I even did the tassel part of commencement! This really was a very sweet moment. I’ll never forget it."

Jada Sayles swapped her hospital gown for her graduation gown (and cap!) and stood in her hospital room to be officially declared a graduate. On Twitter, she shared a snapshot of her decorated graduation cap, which included balanced scales (she graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice), the phrase "Black girl magic" and a square for her sweet baby boy.

"I was scheduled to get induced Saturday at 5 p.m.," Sayles told New Orleans news outlet WDSU. "So after graduation, I was planning on heading to the hospital." Obviously, the baby, a boy she named Easton, had other plans.

"It happened so fast. I didn't even realize I was missing graduation because it was just such a fast labor."

Clearly, Sayles will have a story to tell her son many times for years to come. The special bond between a mother and her child is only made stronger by something like sharing this momentous occasion for them both.