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Author: Dianne Matthews, First-Year Adviser serving Hillside and Southern High Schools

The NCAA’s National Signing Day is such a great time to be here at Hillside and Southern High Schools. The atmosphere is filled with excitement while the student body, faculty and staff and community as a whole wait in suspense to discover where the student-athletes who will continue to play sports on a collegiate level will commit to. Families, friends, coaches, recruiters and fans alike fill the bleachers at each high school during the first Wednesday of every February waiting to hear each student announce their future institutions and sign their letter of intent. The strong sense of community, pride and support rallying around National Signing Day is truly to be admired—and for me, mimicked!

In a society where African American and Hispanic students make up only about 26% of students enrolling in a post-secondary institution, with the percentage of first-generation college students falling even lower, going to college solely for academic purposes still deserves the same recognition as competing athletically on the next level.  With this in mind, Decision Day came into fruition. National Decision Day, an initiative created by the National College Advising Corps is held on or around May 1 to coincide with the deadline to inform most colleges/universities of their plans to enroll.

Hillside High School’s Decision Day is held in conjunction with the Annual Senior Breakfast. During this time the graduating class comes together for one last meal. In addition to good food and great company, students attending a post-secondary institution or enlisting in the military are recognized.

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As the name of a student along with the institution they will attend appears on the screen, they are invited to sign a poster with their school’s logo.  The posters are then displayed in a high-traffic area on campus for the entire school to see.  The posters from last year had the class of 2014 excited for their own Senior Breakfast to replace them with posters of their own.

With the help of Hillside’s Graduation Coach Antonio King, planning the Senior Breakfast was a lot easier than I expected. While Coach King worked diligently to contract a caterer, I hunted down our 268 seniors to find out what college/university they planned to attend in the fall.  In return for every acceptance letter I received, the student earned one raffle ticket for dorm room necessities that would be raffled off during the breakfast.  I was also assigned the task of shopping for the raffle prizes.  I must say that I am an expert at shopping so I enjoyed this part of the planning! I cheerfully relived my undergraduate days while picking out bed sheets, irons, kitchen supplies and other college essentials to be raffled off. With the food, the prizes and the list of our seniors’ future institutions, we were ready for the big day!

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On Friday the senior class gathered in the school’s cafeteria. Students showed their school spirit by wearing college gear.  Baseball caps, t-shirts, sweatpants, and even lanyards were on display as the students showed off the college they will attend in the fall. Staff members even wore paraphernalia from their alma mater in support.

As the students’ names were called and pictures with their classmates were taken, my heart began to swell.  As a first-year college adviser I often times worry the work I do will not be impactful. That the 1-on-1s, campus visits, and parent calls will somehow still not be enough.  But in that moment, I realized that my work was not in vein.  Seeing students that were not even considering going to college signing their “intent to enroll” with huge grins on their faces reinsured me that I am indeed making a difference. My students have worked extremely hard and despite many obstacles and discouraging factors, they are going to college! To know that I could play even a small role in this pivotal decision that will positively impact the rest of their lives is more rewarding than words can describe.

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Not only did the Senior Breakfast acknowledge seniors who have already made plans to attend college; but it encouraged other seniors to consider a postsecondary education as an option.  Immediately after the breakfast I was approached by numerous seniors asking what they needed to do to go to college.

Hillside is full of both athletic and academic all-stars, all deserving recognition and praise! The breakfast served as a visual culmination of all of the hard work my seniors put into this admissions season.  For others, it was just the push that they needed to make strides toward a brighter future.  For me, it was motivation to finish out the school year strong. I thoroughly enjoyed planning The Senior Breakfast and I am already looking forward to next year’s Decision Day!

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