CHATHAM — Harlan Community Academy High School held its first graduation Tuesday for students in its four-year-old science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program, which the school's principal said was created to help attract more students.
"There are 3,500 students who live in Harlan's attendance zone, but too many students leave the area to attend other high schools," said Harlan principal Reginald Evans. "I wanted to change that trend and make Harlan a viable option for parents on the South Side."
The nearly 200 STEM graduates were accepted into four-year colleges and universities, according to Kenneth Clark, engineering coordinator at Harlan.
"My students are going to the University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin, Morehouse College, Howard University, Ohio State University and beyond," said Clark, a former engineer for Motorola Inc. "I never knew teaching could be so much fun. I have never been a teacher before, but now that I am, I can truly say it is one of the best jobs one could imagine."
One of Clark's students, Akilah Davis, an 18-year-old Roseland resident and the class valedictorian, plans to study chemical engineering at the University of Wisconsin this fall.
"The STEM courses were rigorous but necessary to push me to do above average work. Before I entered the program I had no interest in becoming an engineer," Davis said. "But after I learned more about engineering and the countless contributions engineers make to our daily lives, I developed an interest. There's nothing like having a career that allows you to change the lives of everyday people."
That's also why Janee Thompson, also 18 and from Roseland, said she plans to study engineering this fall at the University of Missouri.
"I would recommend the STEM program to any student. It was a great experience and you do not have to be a lover of math, either," said Thompson, a 2013 Gates Millennium Scholar finalist. "We [STEM students] started together as freshmen and ended together as seniors. That makes us family, and family sticks together even if we are separated for a while."
Commencement speaker Chandra Gill, an author and motivational speaker who grew up in Woodlawn, said Harlan's graduates need "to become creators and go out into the world and do big things."
"[Blacks] come to school too late and drop out too early," Gill said. "You see [blacks] are consumers and not creators."
The neighborhood school held its commencement ceremony for the first time at Chicago State University for 196 graduates, including 26 from the STEM program.
"Normally we would hold our graduations at Christ Universal Temple [in West Pullman], but this time we decided to have it in our on community," Evans said.