Professionals tell Roxborough High’s aspiring astronauts, engineers and doctors, ‘you can do it’

“What do you guys want to be when you grow up?” asked BET TV producer Derrick Stevenson to a room full of students at Roxborough High School on Thursday.

“An astronaut,” one female student responded, which was quickly followed by an outburst of laughter from her classmates. “No really, I wanna go to space.”

“You can do it,” Stevenson told her.

“I wanna be a doctor,” another student chimed in. “An audio engineer,” said another.

“Then that’s what you gotta do. You gotta focus your life around that,” Stevenson said.

The former CN8-turned-BET producer was among more than a dozen other professionals who spoke at yesterday’s Career Day to freshmen and sophomore RHS students about their own jobs, ranging from TV producing and fine arts to the military and real estate.

“You guys are gonna meet obstacles. Ever heard of the road of life?” Stevenson asked the students, who nodded their heads. “You’ll experience detours, bumps in the road. Ultimately, I want you to be successful— and you can.”

Getting students in the college mindset

Each professional was assigned to a classroom and students would rotate to different careers of interest every half hour during morning periods.

“We’re getting students ready for college, preparing them the moment they come here,” explained Principal Stephen Brandt. “We’ve designed events to encourage going to college for students in every semester in every year. We want them to all have the mindset, ‘we are going to college.'”

Brandt, a ’94 RHS alum, said Career Day was created for students to consider potential jobs now, “so they can have an idea of what they want to do when they start applying to colleges.”

“Not knowing what to do is very common,” said Christopher Riddick, a legislative aid for Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. He first majored in biology during his undergrad studies, although said he was interested in law. So he took the last possible LSAT and eventually studied law at Widener University.

“You think you know what a career is like, but you don’t until you get your hands on it,” Riddick told students. To stand out, he encouraged them to apply for jobs or internships related to one’s field.

A taste of politics, law, real estate and music

“I’m trying to get an internship before college, ’cause I wanna go to a good college,” one girl said, neatly dressed in a pencil skirt, blouse and cardigan.

“Can I do what you do?” a male student asked Riddick.

“You’re not pegged to one field in law, you can do a lot with a law degree,” Riddick said. And, as realtor Sheila Bell explained, those in real estate aren’t pegged to how much money they can make.

“This is the only career where you can make a lot of money and not have to have a college degree,” she said, adding that a degree still holds a lot of significance and realtors must take a test every two years. “I love real estate. You don’t get paid every week or every other week, but you make what you earn and if you work hard, you can make a lot.”

That rings true to local musician Greg Sover. “What I do, what the music business is, is 99 percent business, one percent me getting in front of an audience. It’s a lot more business than music and it’s a big business,” he said.

Sover said giving students the motivation to earn a college degree is imperative for their self-esteem and future success, especially in a knowledge-based economy.

‘College is about perseverance’

High school graduation remains an obstacle in Philadelphia, however, where the on-time graduation rate has slowly climbed from 57 percent four years ago to 61 percent last year. A one-percent increase a year isn’t the type of pace Mayor Michael Nutter is shooting for.  He hopes to see a six-year graduation rate of 80 percent by 2014. With that goal in mind, the Career Day professionals and Roxborough High staff are hoping students will take school seriously.

“I wasn’t the smartest in college…but it’s not just about book smart,” said Stevenson. “Sure, you gotta study. You gotta study a lot. But college is about perseverance.”

Editor’s note: The names of the students quoted in this article were not used as the School District of Philadelphia asked NewsWorks to refrain from identifying any students who had not filled out the school’s media release form. 

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