(Bradenton, FL. - May 22, 2012) Close to 200 local middle school students graduated from the Manatee District's Amer-I-Can program this school year and NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown was in town to celebrate the accomplishment.
Mr. Brown founded the Amer-I-Can program, which helps teenagers overcome some of society's most pressing problems by teaching positive self esteem and valuable life-management skills.
The Amer-I-Can program operates in four Manatee District middle schools - Harllee, King, Lincoln and Sugg. This marked the completion of the fifth-year that Amer-I-Can has been in operation in Manatee District Schools.
"I appreciate all of the local support we have had for the last five years," Mr. Brown said, speaking to the graduates assembled in the Davis Theater at Manatee High School on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. "I congratulate the graduates for the changes that you have made; it takes hard work to change."
Also accompanying Mr. Brown to Bradenton was former NFL receiver Reggie Rucker, who has served on the Board of Amer-I-Can. Mr. Rucker played 12 seasons in the NFL, including seven seasons with the Cleveland Browns (1975-1981) and parts of four seasons with the New England Patriots. Mr. Rucker retired in 1981 with 447 career receptions for 7,065 yards and 44 touchdowns.
But the stars of the day were the graduates themselves.
"I walked out of the Amer-I-Can program a better person," said Cole McDonald, a student at Sugg Middle School.
"I've learned to rise above negative thoughts and to replace them with positive ones," said Gabriel Rodriguez, a student at Lincoln Middle.
Other student speakers at the ceremony included Leisha Rolon of Harllee Middle, and De'Asia Williams of King Middle.
School Board members Julie Aranibar and Barbara Harvey were in attendance along with Superintendent Dr. Tim McGonegal.
Skip Wilhoit, Coordinator of Safe Schools for the Manatee District, emceed the ceremony and Xtavia Bailey, Director of Amer-I-Can of Florida also spoke to the students.