Families across Denver are celebrating a common story in June: graduation.
As an estimated 3,700 graduates* in Denver Public Schools put on their caps and gowns, cross the graduation stage, receive their diplomas and throw their hats into the air in jubilation, they do so with a meaningful distinction; they are part of what is expected to be the largest DPS graduating class in several decades.
It continues a trend of improvement in DPS, which has seen its graduates total rise steadily since the Denver Plan reforms nearly a decade ago. More than 1,000 DPS students will cross the graduation stage than did when reforms started.
"It's a time for us to both celebrate our hard work in getting kids to this point, but also it's a time to look ahead at the promise of the future as they go out into the world, into college, into the workforce, and become independent leaders of our community," said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg. "These are incredibly special days filled with such hope and promise."
One of the most remarkable stories within this graduating class is how students from all backgrounds are redefining success across our city. Several students in DPS will attend Ivy League schools -- some of the top higher education institutions in the United States.
Ivy League acceptance is an accomplishment for any student. For Denver East High School graduates Wes Ogsbury and Ashia Ajani, as well as DSST: Green Valley Ranch graduates Mykaela Johnson and Sheila Qasemi -- all students of color -- this also points to something much bigger.
"I think it means that there’s progress happening," said Mykaela, who will be attending Yale. "Hopefully it creates a ripple effect in that it doesn’t stop with me, but it continues on for more students."
"I feel like, now I look at numbers and I ignore them. The numbers don’t mean anything," said Sheila, who is also attending Yale. "It’s the words and actions that mean a lot more."
Denver East High School graduate Wes Ogsbury, who was recruited to play football (coupled with a remarkable academic portfolio) at Harvard, said getting into an Ivy League school was a huge testament to the support of his family, friends, teachers and East Angels Football teammates. "It’s just another story of people overcoming adversity, obstacles, and proving that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can get to where you want to go if you apply yourself."
Ashia Ajani, a Denver East High School graduate who will be attending Yale, framed her accomplishment with an important perspective: "The issue that I keep thinking about is that I should not be an outlier. Being a black girl and getting into a top university, there should be more of that. And I would like to encourage DPS to keep students of color, especially women of color, on the right track."
For these four students of color headed to Ivy League schools, their admittance is much more than a symbol or a feel-good story. Their journey -- and the journeys of all DPS graduates -- is filled with deep meaning and great promise.
*Official DPS Class of 2015 numbers not yet available