For the second year, the Little Rock Public Education Foundation today threw a "signing day" celebration for more than five dozen Little Rock School District kids who've won big academic scholarships. It's a nice counterpoint to the media excitement that attaches to the average signing of a promising middle linebacker. Other school districts and private schools are emulating the academic signing day and they should. In theory, at least, that's what school is about. (That's Naomi Bland, the Yale-bound Hall grad and Arkansas Times Academic All-star, signing the honor roll at the event, with state Rep Joyce Elliott.)
You'd have to be a pretty big cynic not to get a kick out of watching five dozen high school seniors -- male, female, black, white, Asian, Hispanic -- announce their awards, the schools they plan to attend and careeer dreams from physician to musician, engineer to public policy wonk. They were greeted by titans of Arkansas, including Scott Ford, Alltel's CEO and a LRSD product, and Charles Morgan, leader of Acxiom, whose headquarters building loomed large on the skyline seen from the room where the event was held -- the soaring ballroom of the Clinton Library.
Proud pops and moms and mentors mingled with kids afterward as they compared notes on the schools they'll be attending -- from Penn to Philander Smith, Washington U. to UCA, with an uncommon number, maybe a dozen, of Hendrix-bound students in between.
There was a lot of history in the room. Scott Ford told the story of an impoverished young man from Wooster, whose neighbors rounded up tuition money and a mule so he could attend college. Arch Ford, Scott Ford's grandfather, eventually led Arkansas education for 25 years. We also greeted John Walker, the civil rights lawyer who's been suing LRSD for nigh onto 50 years. He greeted Linda Brown, principal at Parkview, and complimented her on the racial diversity of the honorees from her high school. They included his grandson, who is heading to Davidson on an honor scholarship.
Happy day. The School District has many hurdles to clear. But those who write it off without a look, based on folklore and misconceptions, should spend a little time with the kids honored today and consider the millions in awards they've won. These are just the best of the best. Many others have won prizes, too. Some even play linebacker.