Jay Donaldson, of the P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group, tells Oliver seniors about the dire statistics facing urban youth and the need to focus on their futures. (Photo by Corey Carrington)

With summer approaching, Oliver High School’s senior class took part in a career day hosted by the P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group on May 20. Proclaiming the good news of every student’s potential, the purpose of this career day was to stir up the ambitions of those in attendance one final time before their departure.

“The importance of continuing education, making good choices and becoming involved must be stressed to these kids,” said Jay Donaldson, the founder of the P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group.

The group, meant to inspire, has been involved in many community rallies to promote peace since 2007.

P.R.O.M.I.S.E. is short for its mission statement, which is to “Protect and Restore the Order of Mankind with the Initiative to Serve Elders,” a challenge Donaldson believes must be embraced in order to achieve success both professionally and personally.

In an effort to reach out to the high school seniors in attendance, a small group of successful professionals from the Pittsburgh area were invited to talk about their unique journeys after high school.

Carla Barlo, one of the guest speakers who received her bachelor of science in nursing at CCAC, told of the hardships she faced when pursuing her education.

“I hit a little bump in the road,” said Barlo lightheartedly, when describing how her pregnancy at the age of 17 caused her to postpone her career pursuits. Despite the unexpected adjustments she was forced to make, Barlo decided to return to school when she realized that an education was the only thing that was going to help her family.

Barlo’s story caught the attention of Alicia Whitmer, a bright-eyed senior who is a single parent and is also planning on attending CCAC to receive a nursing degree.

“I’m worried about finding daycare and figuring out how to manage my time and money,” said Whitmer, who later sought out Barlo for more advice.

Rashall Brackney, a graduate of Penn Hills High School and Zone 1 Police Chief now pursuing a doctorate at Carnegie Mellon University, brought up the popular issue of money management after high school.

Brackney emphasized the importance of only spending money in ways that will be beneficial in the long run. “You will sow what you reap,” Brackney declared, as she articulated the notion of return on investment.

While some are concerned about the financial and time management issues of life after high school, others expressed mixed feelings toward leaving the familiar hallways of Oliver for goo

“I’m afraid to be on my own, but at the same time, I can’t wait,” said Nakiea Danieo, who will be attending CCAC for a degree in criminal justice.

Although there are many stressful aspects of graduation, most students can’t help but look forward to the excitement that lies ahead and are eager to take the next step.

Shane Phillips, who will be attending Lock Haven University in the fall, expressed his optimism toward attending college and participating in collegiate sports. “I do it all,” said a confident Phillips, who is hoping to multi-task between basketball and track and field at the college level.

When asked for a show of hands of those who will be attending college, nearly every hand rose towards the auditorium ceiling.

However, some are either unsure of their immediate plans, have a career path other than college in mind, or will be entering the U.S. military upon graduation.

In regards to a career in the armed forces, Oliver High School is known for its outstanding JROTC program, which offers hefty scholarship awards for cadets interested in collegiate ROTC programs, which allow them to become military officers.

Lt. Col. Michael Cassatori, the senior army instructor for the JROTC program at Oliver, is proud of his cadets and is confident in their future success.

Cassatori made it clear that he intends to stay in touch with his cadets. He has stayed in touch with Melvin Lowe, a graduate of the JROTC program at Oliver who received a four year scholarship award to Lehigh University, and is now a captain in the Army on his third tour in Iraq.

The lieutenant colonel then went on to tell of the two winners of this year’s scholarship award, Asia Johns, who will be attending Slippery Rock University, and Justin Stadleman, who will be attending Edinboro University. Both cadets received over 40,000 dollars towards their college education, which includes tuition, books and room and board.

Although the bright future that awaits these seniors was emphasized, the potential for difficult and humbling times after graduation was also brought to their attention.

Floyd Holyfield Jr., a 53-year-old father of 11 who is currently attending CCAC to become an X-ray technician, told of his son who was murdered at the age of 17, the same age as many seniors in attendance. “It can happen to anyone,” Holyfield said.

In a high school where nearly 80 percent of the students are black, and where violence is not uncommon, Holyfield’s story reinforced the riveting statistics of black males presented by Donaldson, which were gathered by various sources, such as the National Urban League, The Pittsburgh Courier and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

According to these sources, black males who are 14 to 24 years old were implicated in a quarter of the nation’s homicides. Furthermore, black males between 15 and 34 are nine times more likely to be killed by firearms than other ethnicities.

While the staggering numbers may have been discouraging to some, Holyfield continued to underline the importance of staying focused.

“You just have to set yourself aside and keep moving,” said Holyfield with determination.

Amidst the various insights and perspectives offered by the guest speakers and seniors alike, it became apparent that success, both personally and professionally, boils down to the amount of passion an individual possesses.

Al Thomas, a Vietnam veteran who began his career working at a local steel mill right out of high school, stressed the importance of seizing opportunities when he talked of Arnold Schwarzenegger, a foreigner who became the governor of California.

“Put yourself in the position to take advantage of opportunities now,” said Thomas, “or else another Arnold will come along and take that very opportunity from you.” He closed with a promising smile.