Publish by Florida College Access Network
FCAN’s Florida College Decision Day initiative aims to celebrate all students’ postsecondary plans and is an adaptation of the NCAA’s National College Signing Day, which spotlights students who have received athletic scholarships.
While Gainesville might be best-known for the exploits of the University of Florida’s student-athletes, the city recently saw the return of a community event honoring students for their plans to pursue education beyond high school.
Last month, the Greater Gainesville Chamber Foundation hosted its second College Signing Day. More than 25 graduating seniors from seven public and private high schools in the area were celebrated at the event, which recognized students with plans to attend a 4-year university, 2-year college, technical school, or the military.
Each student was presented with a certificate and a pennant of the school or entity they will be attending. They also wrote their name on the event’s college signing board. Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornel and Interim Superintendent Shane Andrews spoke and celebrated the students at the event.
“The parents and families had a wonderful time,” said Ian Fletcher, Chief Operating Officer of the Gainesville chamber. Fletcher also spearheads the Alachua County Education Compact (ACEC), the local college access network (LCAN) serving Alachua. “I think it’s important to celebrate these students because they are accomplishing something great.”
Fletcher said he became inspired to create the event after attending a Better Make Room function in Washington, D.C. about six years ago. Better Make Room, former First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to celebrate education and encourage students’ postsecondary ambitions, created its own version of College Signing Day in 2014.
The 2016 trip was made possible through an FCAN grant that allowed a first-generation student whom Fletcher accompanied to visit the White House. Although Fletcher was interested in bringing his own adaptation of College Signing Day back to Gainesville, he took some time to gather more information and make connections.
“One of the things I’ve learned in my role is when to start something,” Fletcher said. “Just because you see something you like, it doesn’t mean you have to start tomorrow.”
Some partners didn’t have the capacity to support this initiative and it caused Fletcher to question whether to move forward or not.
“My boss said I should reach out to some of the individual public schools and private schools and do it anyway,” Fletcher said.
The first College Signing Day in Gainesville took place in 2019 and had 34 students attend. The event was postponed in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 before returning in May.
Both College Signing Days have taken place at Gainesville’s Celebration Pointe Promenade Stage. While many College Signing Day/College Decision Day events are hosted at the seniors’ own high schools, Fletcher wants to invite even more people to celebrate their local students’ success.
“The city, county, or any local business that wants to be a part of this can join us” said Fletcher, who has already partnered with local businesses like MiApa Latin Café, Le Macaron, Regal Celebration Pointe 10 & RPX and Campus USA Credit Union for College Signing Day. “My vision is to scale this program and really make it a community event.”