For the 1,000 or so Pittsburgh Public School seniors gathered at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall to take part in the second annual Pittsburgh Promise “Signing Day” ceremony, it was nice to hear former professional football players, Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, EdD, and Hall of Fame Steeler Franco Harris, say they were inspired by, and proud of, the students’ hard work.
But as inspiring as the students are, it was they who were inspired when current Steeler Ryan Shazier wheeled himself onto the stage and stood to address them.
“This city’s been good to me, and I wanted to come by and say, ‘Hi,’” he told the cheering crowd during the May 2 event. “Whatever you have to do, keep going, keep fighting and keep dreaming.”
Shazier told them they would face adversity of some kind or another when they head off to college. The key, he said, is to push through it.
“If you ask people who’ve made it to the top, they’ll tell you it’s not about being there—it’s about the journey, the ups and downs along the way,” he said. “I was having my best season ever when I got hurt. But I don’t think I’d be reaching as many people (with that message) if I hadn’t been. God does what he does for a reason.”
While most in the audience knew Shazier suffered a major spinal injury last season, and was initially paralyzed from the waist down, he is now walking, and says he’ll play again. What many didn’t know is, he almost never played at all.
“I have scoliosis. When I was in 9th or 10th grade, doctors said I couldn’t play football,” he said. “But I didn’t stop. We eventually found a doctor who could help. So don’t look down, don’t have a sad face. Continue to lean on the people you’ve leaned on your whole life. Continue to push forward. Just continue to stay positive. Continue to work your tail off.”
In addition to Shazier, Promise grad Vanessa Thompson told the crowd that the scholarship she received allowed her to get the education and skills she needed at Chatham University to give back to her community.
Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril then introduced PNC Foundation Chair and President Sally McCready, who announced a $2.5 million contribution to the Promise, bringing the foundation’s total contributions to more than $3.8 million and pushing the Promise over the $200 million mark in contributions.
“We’re honored to make this investment in the Pittsburgh Promise, the City of Pittsburgh and you all here today,” she said.
Then, Ghubril picked up the Guild guitar that had been conspicuously lying on stage and joined the members of the district’s All City Choir for a rousing version of “Go High,” a song written by a classmate of his daughter at NYU.
Next, it was DJ Underdog, also known as Brashear High School Assistant Principal Joseph Michalski, who cranked up the jams as the names of all the colleges, universities, trade schools and unions, and military branches the students had committed to were read.
With this graduating class, the number of students the Pittsburgh Promise has served in its 10 years will top 9,000. All graduates who have met grade and attendance criteria are eligible for a $5,000 per year scholarship to an in-state, post-secondary institution.
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