The first city graduates who were able to take advantage of the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program are now beginning to graduate from four-year colleges, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wanted them to know how proud of them he is.

So during a March 15 ceremony in his conference room, he presented 12 of them with proclamations congratulating them for their determination and success.

FIRST CLASS—Joined by Pittsburgh Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril, a dozen students who were among the first four-year college graduates to receive Promise scholarships are honored by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl during a March 15 event at his office. (Photo by J.L. Martello.)

“You are a testament to the region’s dedication,” he said. “We hope these graduates choose to stay, to live and work here and contribute to this growing economy.”

Ravenstahl noted that the Promise is achieving the results hoped for when the program was proposed in 2006. City school children who might never have gone to college are succeeding and the city is seeing its tax base grow as families move in to take advantage of the Promise’s up to $40,000 per child scholarship for qualifying high school graduates.

“A RAND (Corporation) study shows 450 new families enrolled in Pittsburgh Public Schools,” he said. “The Promise scholarship is keeping people here too, and improving educational standards in Pittsburgh Public Schools. When it started only39 percent met federal standards, now it’s 70 percent.”

Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril said more than 300 students will graduate this year from four-year colleges. Another 300, he said had already graduated from two-year certificate and technical programs. Regardless of the program’s success, the real promise, he said, was the students.

“We hoped this would be a spark to ignite school reform and reinvigorate the city, and it has,” he said. “But the real promise lies in the hearts, souls and minds of some amazing people.”

Shaffon Williams, a Schenley alum who graduated Magna Cum Laude with a biology degree from Lincoln University, said the promise prepared her and she is very grateful.

“It enabled me to get a scholarship to pay for pharmacy school,” she said.

Aquiyla Leonard, who is receiving her degree in Sociology from Clarion University in May, has also applied to gradate school, and if she is not accepted, she would further her career through enrollment in the US Air Force.

“My experience was a little different because I moved away to New York then came back to Pittsburgh. So I did not get any Promise funds until my second year,” she said. “So it made a world of difference. It allowed me to fulfill leadership roles, and to be part of Building Bridges where I speak to high school students. And I haven’t taken out a loan since I was a sophomore.”

Jasmine Penebaker, who graduated from Perry Traditional Academy before graduating from Point Park University with a business management degree, said she hasn’t decided on a career direction, but her degree is applicable to a variety of fields, so she isn’t panicking.

“The promise was great, but I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was,” she said. “I was an honor student, but in college I struggled with the course load and an outside job. College is not easy. It’s a lot of work. But we’re the first class, and I’m extremely grateful to the Promise for making that happen.”

Donita Petite, who is graduating from California University of Pennsylvania with a degree in communication, plans to move to New York City to pursue a career in media.

“The Promise helped me stay in the area and to get a Governor’s Scholarship to Cal U,” she said. “I was prepared too. Some kids react badly to all the freedom of college but you have to balance that. I learned to surround myself with positive people, and I will continue to.”

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