The LEAD Academy Class of 2018 – the fifth consecutive class to earn 100 percent acceptance to a four-year college – graduated tonight in front of a packed McAfee Concert Hall at Belmont University. 

The 47 seniors – nearly half of whom, 22, began with LEAD in the fifth grade – received their diplomas after an invocation by Salutatorian Perto Michel, who will attend the University of Tennessee in August. Valedictorian Katriana Harris, on her way to Emory University, introduced student speaker Tyler Perry, who will be a freshman at Trevecca Nazarene University this fall. 

“I personally want to thank my mom for a moment for bringing me here,” said Perry, who also thanked teachers and his classmates. “I didn’t start at LEAD originally. The school I was at just wasn’t the place for me and she knew that. She pushed me to give it 100% no matter what to get me where I am now. She never gave up on me. I wouldn’t be here without her.

“Not everyone here had the reason I had on why they’re here, but it’s a good reason nonetheless,” he said. “Bringing us here was the best decision. We appreciate the path you lead us in. We hope we made you proud. We wouldn’t be here without you. We wouldn’t be here without your belief in us.” 

The seniors were fresh off the network’s annual Senior Signing Day just up the road at the Curb Event Center. There, before more than 2,400 students network-wide, the seniors declared where they will attend college in the fall. 

“This isn’t the end for us yet,” Perry said. “This is the beginning of creating a better society, a better environment, and a better future. No matter what, I wish you the best of luck and I will miss you all deeply.”

The class diplomas were certified by District 5 Board member Christiane Buggs. Head of Schools LaVoe Mulgrew closed the program.

“I ask that you do three things,” Mulgrew said. “First, thank the people that got you here, many of whom are here tonight: your parents, grandparents, friends and teachers. Second? Persist. Whether you go to a four-year or two-year college, to the military or other post-secondary program, persist. Finish what you start.  As Mr. (Jason Nikolao, the guest speaker at Senior Signing Day) told you last week: you’re going to encounter the unexpected. And when you do, don’t give up.

“Which brings me to my third point: stay in touch; lean on us. We can help you get through these next few years. Remember: we are here for you.”

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