“Commencement is a nice formal ceremony. It has structure, it’s well maintained and there are nice traditions, but Senior Signing Day is the Coachella of graduations.” That’s how YES Prep Northbrook High School school director Bryan Reed described YES Prep’s signature event. First started in 2001 by YES Prep founder Chris Barbic and Donald Kamentz, the first Senior Signing Day (SSD) took place in a local community center located next to the campus with 17 graduating seniors. Today, the sheer size of SSD is breathtaking, with more than a thousand seniors participating this year.
While school commencements have taken place at Jones Hall and most recently Bayou City Event Center, it doesn’t compare to the size and magnitude of Minute Maid Park or NRG, where SSD is taking place this year. Thousands of YES Prep students and staff, as well as family and friends, will come together under one roof to cheer on the graduating class of 2019. Inspired by ESPN’s National Signing Day where graduating high school football players commit to a college, on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, YES Prep seniors will too declare the college or university they will be attending in the fall.
“College wasn’t in my future”
A founding student of YES Prep Northbrook, Amilcar Ortiz had heard about Senior Signing Day but hadn’t planned to attend. “I thought college was a waste of my time and it was only a piece of paper. I was planning to go straight into the work force.” Having had several jobs since he was legally able to work, 16 year old Amilcar thought he was making the big bucks earning $11 an hour. However, one of his favorite teachers, Ms. Walthall, kept encouraging him to not discard the idea of attending college.
“One day before heading to work, I was talking to Ms. Walthall and she asked me if the type of job I currently had was what I wanted to do in life, especially when there were opportunities to do so much more. She gave me information on some colleges she thought I might like. As I stood at work that day, helping a customer scan his items at the grocery store, I realized how boring my job was. That’s when I decided I did want to go to college.”
Unfortunately, due to his certainty to forgo college, one of Almicar’s biggest struggles has been his low grades. Complacent with 70s up to his junior year, his grades haven’t helped when applying for colleges. Fortunately, his SAT score was “pretty good” and now he is one month away from graduation, weighing between attending Stephen F. Austin State University or Sam Houston State University to study Political Science.
YES Prep Northbrook joins the ranks
Even when he didn’t see Senior Signing Day in his future, Amilcar always thought it was one of YES Prep’s best traditions. And now that he is attending, “I’m so nervous but I’m also very excited. I’m going to be in front of a lot of people. This will be an opportunity to show everyone who I am. My mom is looking forward to this day too. She’s inviting my whole family but I told her we don’t have enough seats for all of them to go.”
School director Reed shared Amilcar’s sentiments about the big day. On SSD, he will be in charge of announcing the names of his senior class in front of thousands of people. But he knows this day has been years in the making. “We have talked about Senior Signing Day with our Northbrook families since the first day we opened this campus. These last couple of years, our students have attended SSD but now instead of cheering on another school’s senior class, they will be cheering on their own brothers, sisters and friends.”
Significance of SSD
“SSD is special because it is the culmination of all the hard work teachers, parents, and students have put in,” Reed stated. “SSD is the most tangible event directly tied to YES Prep’s mission, it makes the college experience, college acceptance come to life.” Reed went on to mention that SSD is a phenomenal lever for his younger students too. “We can talk about college and we can take them on college trips but having that line in the sand where you get up in front of the entire YES Prep community and in front of all your friends and family and declare your college, there’s something that transcends that experience for kids.”
For YES Prep teachers and staff, who either work with students from sixth or ninth grade, depending on the campus, SSD serves as the final destination, an incredible community celebration of getting the students set for college. To have played a part in students’ achievements and have a visual representation of their accomplishments, there’s nothing else like it.
Having been with YES Prep for fourteen years, Reed mentioned that he’s only gotten emotional at one SSD, when the founding senior class of YES Prep North Central, students he had taught since 8th grade, walked the SSD stage in 2010. “I was crying and don’t think I’ve ever hugged so many families in my life.” He went on to mention that once he finishes reading that last senior’s name at this year’s event and looks out at the proud faces of the Northbrook Class of 2019, he won’t be surprised if SSD 2019 turns out to be the second time he gets emotional.
To learn more about Senior Signing Day, click here.