Cleveland Rotary recognizes ‘who’s who’ in senior class
Whitney M. Young Leadership Academy senior Arielle Cook is one of CMSD’s brightest students, and she wants to have a say in ensuring that her little sister has the same, or even better, opportunities to succeed.
The Rotary Club of Cleveland wants the same for Cook’s sister -- and for all current and future CMSD students -- which is why the club organizes the annual Thesmacher High School Recognition Day and New Generations Conference.
Last week, at the 39th conference, the club honored the District’s top seniors and connected them with civic leaders to discuss issues that are important to the seniors and articulate their visions of the future. The students spent the day at the Windows on the River banquet hall, talking to dozens of public figures, including Ohio State Board of Education member Meryl Johnson, Cleveland Fire Chief Angelo Calvillo and Cuyahoga County Councilman Anthony Hairston.
“It’s nice to have them hear us and have our ideas go to somebody important so that we don’t feel like we’re just left behind,” Cook said.
The students heard a keynote address from Yolanda Armstrong, president of Big Brothers and Sisters of Greater Cleveland and a John Adams High School graduate. She shared the story of how she overcame challenges in her childhood with the help of mentors who helped her quash doubts about her potential. After being told she wasn't "college material," Armstrong went on to earn a bachelor's degree in health services administration from Ohio University and a master's in social work administration from Case Western Reserve University.
The rest of the day was dedicated to small-group discussions facilitated by local civic and business leaders whose main role was to listen. The talking was done by the students, who spoke on everything from gun violence in their neighborhoods to how LGBT students are treated by their peers. The next step was to come up with solutions to the problems and identify who should be responsible for implementing those solutions.
Don Zimmerman, a Rotary trustee and co-organizer of the conference, said the goal is to open a channel of communication across generations in Cleveland. And the students always leave him impressed.
“These students are amazing,” he said. “The sophistication and breadth of their thinking is a very powerful thing. They’re trying to solve things and make them equitable without being disciplinarian.”
The Rotary plans to gather a record of the students’ most pressing concerns and publish a report that will be distributed to officials in the school district, the city and prominent community organizations, Zimmerman said.