GradNation Summit brings kids and education professionals together

In this story from, writer Lyndsey Schley summarizes Summit Education Initiative’s GradNation Community Summit, including keynote speaker Wes Moore’s background and the important messages he shared with students.

Posted: Jan. 22, 2016

By Lyndsey Schley


Speech by author Wes Moore kicks off events

Summit Education Initiative’s GradNation Community Summit brought more than 400 students, education professionals and community members to Quaker Station in Akron on Jan. 7th.

The GradNation Summit, focusing on the idea of making choices and not consequences, was organized to bring together teachers and students to discuss how to improve high school graduation rates.

“We’re thrilled to be able to host over 140 Akron Public Schools students representing every high school,” Summit Education Initiative Executive Derran Wimer said. “We believe at the Summit Education Initiative that hearing the student voice and understanding the students’ perspective is very important for us to help them be successful. I would encourage you as we go through the day to please fully engage with each other, because we have a lot to learn from the students and the students can maybe learn some new things from us.”

The students and professionals also were able to listen to and interact with local and national figures who had turned their lives around by seeking education.

The GradNation Summit, a program of the America’s Promise Alliance, is one of 100 similar summits being held across the country.

The graduation rate in Summit County is about 88 percent, which is 7 percentage points above the most recent national rate in 2012, but 462 students last year still left school without receiving any diploma. Kirsten Toth, Senior Vice President of the GAR Foundation, said this is still too many people.

Derran Wimer and Wes Moore

Derran Wimer, executive director of Summit Education Initiative, leads an engaging Q&A session after Wes Moore’s keynote presentation on Jan. 7, 2016 at Quaker Station.

“It’s 462 lives that are forever changed because of that one consequence,” Toth said. “What’s important about our convening today for me is we can all be lifelong learners, wherever that comes from and wherever that is in our lives.”

Author kicks off event with a message to kids about choices

New York Times Bestselling Author Wes Moore has led an accomplished life. He was a Rhodes Scholar and a White House Fellow. The military veteran served as a paratrooper in Afghanistan.

However, his life did not start out as easily. He was born in Baltimore, where he watched his father die at an early age. He moved with his family to live with his grandparents in the Bronx, where he began to get in trouble.

His mother sent him to military school and his life got turned around, but his book, The Other Wes Moore, details the life of another man from Baltimore with the same name and a similar background. Instead of being a veteran or a White House Fellow, that Wes Moore is in jail serving a life sentence for murder. Moore is currently working at a start-up to improve the first year of college for students.

Moore said one of the largest influences was the expectations others had for him. He once visited the other Wes Moore in jail, who commented that they were not so much products of their environments, but rather, products of their expectations.

“Someone said to me ‘It’s a real shame that you lived up to your expectations and Wes didn’t,’” he said. “ I said. ‘Actually, the real shame is that we both did.’ Because the expectations we have for ourselves aren’t born from nowhere. The expectations we have for ourselves come from expectations other people have of us.”

He said it was important to never forget the students who are not in the room and less interested in their education.

“The 88 percent is wonderful, but we must be obsessed with the 400 plus,” Moore said. “The 88 percent deserves acknowledgment and applause and celebration, but the 400 plus needs to keep us up at night. We fight for the others and if we’ve done that, we’ve done our job.”

Moore also insisted that the promise of good education for students is not only about them, but also about giving back to the community that supported them.

“This promise is not a gift,” he said. “This promise is a responsibility. This promise forces you to ask ‘Who will I choose to fight for?’ because your success will mean nothing if it’s just about getting you personally across the finish line. The whole point about you getting across the finish line is that you are now ready to join an army of people who are pulling other people across the finish line, too.”

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