First graduates of Jalen Rose Academy march with pride

Ursula Watson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Jalen Rose didn't forget where he came from or those he left behind.

The ESPN/ABC analyst and former 13-year NBA star, raised his arms, clenched fists as if he had just won the NBA Finals, as he beamed with pride as he walked passed the inaugural graduating class of Jalen Rose Leadership Academy (JRLA).

The teens were in line, donning graduation caps and gown— young ladies in yellow and young men in blue — in the lobby waiting to enter the Masonic Temple Jack White Theater on Saturday.

Following Rose past the students was Michael A. Cater Sr., academy co-founder and former Detroit mayors Dennis Archer Sr., and Dave Bing.

And bringing up the rear was former Detroit Piston and 12-time NBA All-Star and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, who hummed the familiar portion of "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1: Land Of Hope And Glory," that has and continues to be played at countless graduations annually.

The inaugural graduating 2015 class of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy students stand at their graduation ceremony.

Parents, guardians, extended family, and academy founders and donors assembled inside the theater, where Rose and his guest addressed graduates.

"The only person that you are destined to become is the person you decide to be," Rose said.

He told the young men and women to make quality decisions and face adversity with a countenance of unwavering determination.

Rose happily exalted that 100 percent of the graduating class has gained college, trade/technical school or military acceptance. Founded in 2011, the academy remains involved with their graduates as they pursue higher education.

"This is not goodbye. This is just see you later. The job is not done," said Rose.

Rose, born and raised in Detroit, attended Southwestern High School and the University of Michigan. In college he played basketball and was part of the legendary "Fab Five."

Jalen Rose Leadership Academy is one of the few high schools in Detroit that works aggressively to raise funds for private scholarship dollars for its students.

And as aggressively as the academy strives to raise funds, many of its students worked hard and received full scholarships to the schools of their choice, including University of Michigan, University of Michigan-Dearborn and Michigan State University.

Many also received partial academic scholarships as well, with the total amount of gift aid for the Class of 2015 exceeding $2.1 million.

Each student was given a tablet and treated to a special surprise.

Detriot native Sean Anderson, a.k.a. Big Sean was welcomed by screams as he walked out on stage.

Anderson, who graduated from Cass Tech High School with a 3.7 grade point average, has appeared on songs with Eminem, Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, Drake and Miley Cyrus.

Detroit rapper Big Sean addresses graduates during the inaugural graduating 2015 class of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy.

He grew up on 6 Mile and Wyoming in Detroit. Now Kanye West, is his mentor and he rubs shoulders with other mega-music stars such as Jay Z and Beyonce.

"I feel like I am talking to the future," Anderson said to the class of 2015.

He told the teens to pursue what they love, be innovators and stay focused.

"I truly have love for the city. It made me who I am," he said. " I feel like we can do anything because our city has gone through so much. We have seen the bottom and we have seen the top. No matter what, we are going to be who we are and find a way to survive."

He added that no matter what part of the world he's travels to, people love and respect Detroit.

"When you say you are from Detroit, hold your head up high," he said.

When Thomas took the mic the crowd roared and cheered "Bad Boys." As point guard for the Pistons from 1981 to 1994 he led the team to the NBA championships in 1988-89 and 1989-1990 seasons.

Former Detroit Piston Isiah Thomas gives a passionate address at the inaugural graduating 2015 class of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy.

A Chicago-native, who calls Detroit his adopted home, Thomas cautioned the teens that graduation was just one of many hurdles that must be cleared in the pursuit of success.

"You just made it to the playoffs," he said. "Now we have to get ready for the finals."

Thomas, president of the WNBA Liberty, challenged academy graduates to lay the foundation for the next generation and mentor them.

"Your job, your responsibility as leaders, is to make sure you leave the door open," he said. "Jalen Rose thank you for opening that door."

One of the inaugural graduates walking through that door is Eboni Ross, 17, of Detroit.

Her parents smiled as they took pictures of their daughter.

"Words can't express how proud I am of my daughter," said Patricia Ross. " She is going to Central Michigan and will major in criminal justice and minor in psychology. She wants to be a FBI agent."

Ross added that Rose was a part of the students lives and supported them. And while things were tough when the academy first opened its doors, Rose remained dedicated to his students.

"I was proud of him and I am very proud of him," said Ross, who added that she graduated from Southwestern High School as did Rose.

Eboni's father Sellie Ross said he is not only filled with pride but gratitude.

"I am overwhelmed," he said. I am very grateful that I am a part of her. I am truly grateful to God."

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