More than 400 people attended this morning’s annual LEAD College Breakfast inside the Music City Center in downtown Nashville to celebrate the success of the last four graduating classes of LEAD Academy – all of whom have earned 100 percent acceptance to college – and the LEAD network as a whole.

The audience heard stories of triumph, heart and belief in one’s self throughout the morning’s festivities. Mr. Eddie George, who is in the middle of a month-long run starring in “A Raisin in the Sun” at TPAC, focused keynote remarks on his personal four pillars: spiritual, mental, social and physical.

“Seek the moments where it gets tough and learn how to breathe through it,” he said.

Weaving stories of his upbringing and Southwest Philadelphia to attending military school in Virginia through his time at Ohio State and as an icon on the Tennessee Titans, George focused on perseverance and the importance of character.

During high school, he said, “I was able to find my discipline and my work ethic.”

Also speaking during Thursday’s morning’s event were current LEAD Academy senior Dierra Swanson, who shared her story of when and how she enrolled at LEAD.

“I can remember in seventh grade, I came to LEAD and for the first three days, I didn’t talk to anybody,” the college-bound art major said. “I remember this so vividly, with my red hair in the last seat on the left side… I was always the last one to get off the bus.

“But on day four, (now-fellow-senior) LeMae Smith started talking to me,” she continued. “I didn’t want her to talk to me. But she kept talking to me. And then she invited me to move up to her seats with her friends. So I did. And I laughed ‘til I cried the whole way home.

“Although it was the fourth day – it really felt like my first day,” she said. “See, I love my school because we are pushed, but we are loved. When I look back on my time at LEAD Academy, I know every person in the building cares about who we are now and in the future.”

Emcee Vicki Yates of News Channel 5 opened the breakfast by welcoming the Cameron choir and announcing that four consecutive LEAD senior classes (2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017) have all earned 100 percent acceptance to college. LEAD CEO Chris Reynolds further addressed that point.

“We are here because we all believe in equity and opportunity,” Reynolds said during his welcoming remarks. “There are hundreds of you here with us this morning and that motivates us even more to do this important work.

“We are humbled that so many of you share the sense of urgency we feel when it relates to equity and opportunity.”

LEAD will celebrate the LEAD Academy Class of 2017 at Belmont University on May 17 at the annual Senior Signing Day. There, seniors will publicly announce where they will be enrolling in college – a LEAD tradition. To learn more about the day, check out last year’s video here.

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