Picture this: students pledge to graduate

Attitudes of grad-itude

Carolina Rodriguez fixes the hat of fellow senior Brian Ngo

Seniors put on caps and gowns recently and posed for graduation photos. They weren’t getting their diplomas just yet, though. They were making a promise: the Godwin Family Promise.

“You are committing right now that you are going to graduate with the people in your class. You’re going to do what it takes to make it through this last hard stretch,” Katie Hoffman, multi-tiered systems of support coach for the school, told the assembled seniors.

Hoffman created the Godwin Family Promise, inspired by a climate and culture program offered by Jostens Renaissance, to get students on board with one goal: to graduate with their class.

Senior Edwin Daniels fastens his graduation gown

It’s not just seniors who are making the promise: freshman, sophomores, and juniors also participate in the Godwin Family Promise. Every student in the high school is being asked to submit a pledge card committing to graduate, sign a class banner, and pose for a photo in cap and gown. Students also receive a bracelet to remind them of the promise and hear a lesson on the importance of graduating during the school’s advisory period.

Attitudes of “grad”-itude

The enthusiasm was undeniable as the seniors adjusted their mortarboards and mugged for the cameras.

“It’s very cool to put the cap and gown on and take pictures with friends,” said Janae Matthews, who is bound for Ferris State University next fall. She says it may motivate some classmates whose graduation status is uncertain to put in the effort and graduate with the class of 2019.

Alyssa DeVries concurred as she used her reflection in a window to adjust her cap before a photo opportunity.

“I’m so excited,” said Alyssa, who plans to head to Grand Rapids Community College or Grand Valley State University in the fall. “I think this is something that they should do every year. It’s something that leads us to graduation and the real world.”

Senior Alyssa DeVries fixes her hair beneath her cap in preparation for her ‘graduation’ photo

Starting them early

“I hope that especially our underclassmen will understand the importance of graduation at a younger age,” said Hoffman, adding that the reality of taking school seriously generally sets in by junior year. “Sometimes it takes a while to get to that understanding.”

She hopes that the graduation robe photos will help students visualize the goal and think about what it takes to get to that point.

Principal Chad Conklin said he is impressed with the work Hoffman has done so far to build enthusiasm for graduation. The message he wants students to hear is that they can graduate from Godwin Heights High School in four years.

Conklin said graduation rates have been about 94 percent in recent years. “That’s great,” he said. “But we’d like it to be 100.”

A senior fills out her Godwin Family Promise pledge card

Conklin added that there’s only so much he can tell students that will be taken to heart. He hopes an upcoming all-school assembly featuring a recent graduate, a teacher at the school who graduated from the district, and a senior who will graduate this spring will motivate younger students to think about what they need to do to fulfill the Godwin Family Promise. Also at that assembly, seniors will walk across the stage as they would on graduation day.

“I’m just hoping it will be that extra little bit of inspiration that they need, where they can picture themselves graduating, set those strong goals, and move ahead,” said Instructional Data Coach Bobbi Jo Kenyon, who helped garb seniors for their cap and gown photos. “They’ve got the picture right there. They can look at it any time and it will be a great reminder…‘I can do this. I want this to be me.’”

Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting. Read Bridie's full bio.

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