By the time the LEAD Academy High School Class of 2016 entered the Curb Event Center on Friday morning, the more than 2,500 in attendance were ready to shower the group of 39 students with as much love, energy and applause as they could.

“This is the third year in a row that all of our seniors have been accepted to a four-year college,” said Head of School LaVoe Mulgrew in her opening remarks. “Way to go class of 2016!”

It’s safe to say the students earned it.

In a ceremony centered on words like family, perseverance, commitment and the notion of serving others, the LEAD Academy High School Class of 2016 publicly announced where they intend to go to college during the annual Senior Signing Day, held this year at Belmont University. Ninety percent of the students are the first in their families to attend college.

“This morning is a testament to the work we do,” said LEAD CEO Chris Reynolds. “It is the celebration of a group of seniors who have embraced the Ethos we all share at LEAD.  Today we are all witnesses to the outcome of their commitment to becoming ready for college and ready for life.”

The students began the day with the annual senior breakfast – a moment of fellowship among families. There, keynote speaker Amos Otis, a 1965 Tennessee State University graduate and recent recipient of the Rosa Parks Courage Award, met with seniors along with his wife, Brenda.

A common theme among all speakers on Friday morning? Staying true to the LEAD Ethos. Students and staff lead because they are courageous, committed, disciplined, self-reliant and because they serve others.

“Most importantly, live by the Ethos taught here at LEAD Academy,” said Otis, who announced during his keynote address that he was establishing a $10,000 scholarship at Tennessee State for a LEAD graduate – and promptly received a standing ovation. “It will not always be easy. It will not always be right. There will be dark days and doubters. If you are true to these values and the Ethos taught here, you will succeed.

“It’s not where you start,” Mr. Otis said amid applause. “It’s not where you are right now. It is where you finish.”

Just prior to the seniors’ entrance, each LEAD school fired up the crowd with their annual Senior Signing Day cheers. Neely’s Bend, LEAD’s newest school, opened the festivities with fifth-graders proudly demonstrating their school pride. They were followed by LEAD Southeast, Brick Church, Cameron and then, the oldest school in the fold: LEAD Academy Middle.

Deputy Chief W. Todd Henry, who opened with remarks after an introduction from Mrs. Mulgrew, quipped that he hadn’t seen that much energy in a room since the famed “Music City Miracle” back in the 1999-2000 NFL Playoffs.

“Deciding to continue your education is the way to go,” the Deputy Chief said, like others noting the LEAD Ethos. “No wonder the city of Nashville is proud of you. You are a LEAD family.”

After several speeches, the senior class took center stage. Literally.

One by one, members of the Class of 2016 walked onto the stage, stood in front of a microphone, introduced themselves and proudly declared where they would attend and graduate from college. The seniors announced their choices as family members shot video and took pictures as the entire LEAD staff and student body cheered them on.

This year’s class announced their intentions to attend the following schools: Alcorn State University, Austin Peay State University, Belmont University, Bethel University, Center College, Coker College, Columbia State Community College, East Tennessee State University, Fisk University, Florida A&M University, Hendrix College, Lincoln College of Technology, Middle Tennessee State University, Nashville State Community College and Tennessee College of Applied Technology.

The list also includes: Tennessee State University, Trevecca Nazarene University, the University of Memphis, the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, Volunteer State Community College, Western Kentucky University, Watkins College of Art and Design and Wittenberg University.

When Reynolds closed the event in his remarks, he took a moment to ask the fifth-graders in attendance to stand.

“You have now seen firsthand what our expectation is of you and through this year’s senior class – that it can be done,” he said. “In 2023, we expect that each of you will publicly declare what college you will attend and graduate from.”

He then addressed all students across the LEAD network.

“Your day will come, and when it does, we will celebrate with you as you publicly commit to your educational future as a college graduate.”

(Note: we live-tweeted this morning’s event in its entirety. Please check our twitter page for more).