Students Honored for Keeping Alive the Spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.

(February 4, 2020) – Through his words and deeds, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged others to overcome adversity, fight for social justice and promote equality. During a ceremony at USF St. Petersburg, students from throughout Pinellas County were recognized for advancing those ideals.

 The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Scholar Citizens Award Banquet drew a crowd of nearly 70 people to the University Student Center Ballrooms for a night of honoring Dr. King through speeches, videos and an awards presentation.

“Dr. King stood for something and it’s very important for us to remember what that was,” said Michelle Madden, USF St. Petersburg’s Campus Diversity Officer and the organizer of the event. “All of you are helping to keep that spirit alive and tonight we celebrate you for that.”

 Twenty-eight students from throughout Pinellas County were honored during the event for commitment and dedication to community service, volunteerism, social justice and civil rights, as well as perseverance in  overcoming challenges.  

They were welcomed by USF St. Petersburg’s Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock, who urged them to continue fighting for justice and equality. He also encouraged them to consider attending USF St. Petersburg.

“Through your actions, you have proved that you’re the kind of students who want to make a difference in the world,” said Tadlock. “That’s why you belong here at USF St. Petersburg.”

The keynote speech was delivered by Leah McRae, the education director for the city of St. Petersburg’s mayor’s office. As an African American woman, she said she often faced discrimination as she tried to advance her career. But she refused to let others define her, and told the students to seek out experiences that will help build their character.

“I chose to see those words not as obstacles to my accomplishments, but as challenges,” said McRae, who earned a law degree and worked as a prosecutor before transitioning into education. “I learned that when I heard those words to say, ‘you just watch me.’”

The award winners were primarily high school students, although a few were from middle school and USF St. Petersburg. They were honored for an array of accomplishments, from volunteering at a local hospital to leading a church youth group or acting as a mentor to younger students.

Jaylen Thompson, a senior at Boca Ciega High School, was nominated for the Scholar Citizen Award by his guidance counselor, who praised him for being an excellent student leader despite losing his father a few years ago. Thompson tutors other students at his school and is a member of the student advisory board. He also volunteers to help disadvantaged teens and strives to serve as a role model. 

“I’ve won academic awards but I’ve never been honored for community service,” said Thompson, who plans to study computer engineering in college. “I think this is really cool.”