Graduating KIPP Students Declare College Plans on Spurs Home Court

ByEmily Donaldson
KIPP senior Ainara Mora carries a St. Mary's University flag

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Almost exactly one month after the San Antonio Spurs were knocked out of the NBA playoffs, thousands of excited fans streamed into the AT&T Center.

But these rowdy guests were students from each of KIPP San Antonio‘s six campuses. On Wednesday morning, they traveled by charter bus from their campuses to watch the KIPP College Commitment Ceremony, where graduating seniors walk across the Spurs’ home court to announce where they plan to attend and graduate college. 

The ceremony is one of the elements of KIPP Through College – a program that encourages students to think not only about going to college, but also about graduating from college. The program offers financial and academic support to former KIPP students who are enrolled in colleges around the country.

“This event marks a significant milestone in [KIPP students’] journey to obtain a college education and choice-filled life,” KIPP San Antonio CEO Mark Larson said. “The College Commitment Ceremony serves as an example to all 3,235 KIPP San Antonio students and their families in attendance that the path to college doesn’t start in high school.”

 At the beginning of the ceremony, Ruben Rodriguez, director of KIPP Through College,  called out to each class, from kindergarten – the class of 2030 – to the high school juniors – the class of 2019.

“What does the year 2030 mean?” he asked the youngest students in the stadium.

“That’s the year we go to college,” they shouted back. Rodriguez did this with all the other classes until the seniors were ready to take the stage.

Each senior began his or her announcement at midcourt with the same phrase, “I will graduate from,” followed by the name of a college.

The majority of students announced plans to stay in San Antonio, at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, or one of the Alamo Colleges. Several students in the class of 143 seniors announced plans to attend college out of state. The three students heading to two highly selective universities, Brown and Duke, received the loudest cheers.

 Students carried a visual representation of where they would go after graduation. Some unfurled blankets or flags bearing the name of their future home, while others waved pennants above their heads.

 Each time a new university or college was named, a different section of the crowd would cheer loudly. At the beginning of the year, elementary classrooms adopt a university, and as one teacher put it, students “have a connection to that school for the rest of their time at KIPP.”

For example, Haley Morrow’s kindergarten class supports UTSA. On Wednesday, she and her students arrived at the AT&T Center with UTSA signs, face paint, and blue and orange pompoms. The principal at KIPP Un Mundo Dual Language Academy helped teachers choose which school to support, Morrow said.

 Many of the schools adopted by classrooms are hometown favorites: Trinity University, the University of the Incarnate Word, or Our Lady of the Lake University. Some are Texan standards including the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University in College Station. And some, Morrow said, are located in states or cities some of her students have never traveled to: the University of West Florida, New Mexico State University, Stanford University, and Cornell University.

Morrow said when a graduating senior announces plans to go to UTSA, her kindergarteners feel as though their team is being picked.

“My students think, ‘I can be just like them,’” Morrow said.

When the first senior declared she would be attending UTSA in the fall, one of Morrow’s students clutched her face with both hands and yelled, “That’s us! That’s our school!”

Seniors hold the flags, blankets, and T-shirts to be unveiled in front of the audience for KIPP College Commitment Ceremony.

Graduating seniors described the event as important and exciting.

Savannah Leal, who plans to attend Palo Alto College before transferring to A&M-San Antonio to study psychology, said she was nervous before walking across the basketball court. Her class had practiced the ceremony on the school’s football field, but she still felt anxious Wednesday to announce her plans in front of thousands of fellow KIPP students.

 “My sophomore year was the first time seeing the ceremony, and I’ve been excited to do it myself since then,” Leal said. “But I was definitely nervous.”

Samuel Toro, who wants to become a game designer and create special effects, will move to Austin to attend the University of Texas in the fall. He said participating in the ceremony was intense.

“You feel like you are completing something. You’re following your dream finally,” he said. “It feels really important.”

This year, students in KIPP’s graduating class sent out 1,936 college applications and received 779 acceptance letters to more than 100 schools. Every senior was accepted to at least one college.