A Royal Valentine’s Day

Students of Gibbs High School were treated to tea and dinner to honor their accomplishments while offering them an escape from daily school life. Students were given an afternoon where they were treated as royalty.

Valentine's Day GibbsYoung men donned suits and the ladies wore exquisite dresses as they entered through the doors of the Crystal Room located at Pinellas Technical Education Center, St. Petersburg campus. Made kings, queens, princesses, and lords for the day, 12 students joined their families in a fourcourse meal of soup, salad, steak, and a heavenly slice of Royal Valentine chocolate cake. Wine was served, non-alcoholic of course, after all it is a school function and the honored guests were minors.

But the dinner was not your normal recognition dinner. Dr. Cody Clark of Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School was on-hand guiding the room in formal dining etiquette. From where to sit at a table, to how to properly eat soup, to common faux pas such as which fork to use for what, he guided the entire dinner training students on the act of dining in a formal setting.

“It’s a lot to learn. You must concentrate,” Clark said as a young lady left a table and only one man stood. “That’s a problem. Pay attention to what’s going on around you.” Gibbs High Principal Stephanie Adkinson is on a mission to prepare each student that walks through her doors in not only academics, but in life. One that can explore the world and feel comfortable in any setting or direction life may take them.

“There will be a time when you are in a position that you will be looked at and you will be judged,” Adkinson said. “So what we’ve done with you all is assisted you in that process.”

Those in attendance were from across the Gibbs High campus. Some were part of the magnet programs; others athletes most traditional students at the school. School board member Renee Flowers took to the podium and discussed possibilities with students.

“Today you have an opportunity to not only dress the part, play the part, but to be the part,” she said. “You are royalty.” After dinner and the etiquette lessons, the spotlight turned to the Royal Court and Nobel men being honored.

The 2013-14 Homecoming Court was recognized, Alias Middleton as Homecoming King and Brittany McKenzie as Queen. But it was the Nobles that seemed to take center stage. Damien Daniels, referred to as Count, is a senior in the traditional program at Gibbs. He is the academically highest-ranking African-American male student in the senior class of 2014 and he has earned numerous accolades and awards for his intellectual prowess. His work on the football field, the track team, along with his volunteering and outstanding grades has him set to attend the University of Miami come graduation, where he will be majoring in mechanical engineering.

Sir Jaquez President is also a senior in the traditional program and is well known around the campus and community for his active involvement in a variety of activities like volunteering at Child’s Park Recreation Center. He received All County honors in track and made the Pinellas County All-star team in football. President received a full four-year scholarship to Fairmont State University in Virginia for football. Undrea Bullard, Jr. was also honored. Labeled Sir Undrea, the senior has made honor roll since his junior year and after an impressive season in football and basketball, which includes being named Most Outstanding Defensive Player, he recently signed with University of Akron in Ohio with a full four-year scholarship for football as well.

But the young man that earned the title of Lord was Maurice Hall. Shot last year, Hall was thought to never play football again. “I got the call that said he was shot and in the hospital,” said Clark who admits Hall was never one of his students, but that he felt compelled to support the family.

“Maurice is probably the poster child of what I’m trying to really do. He’s one of our own.” Hall has been labeled a survivor among family and friends and is set to embark on a new beginning at Marshall University in West Virginia, where he too received a full four-year scholarship. And yes, he’s playing ball.

Clark wants the 12 students honored to turn into fifty come next year, saying that more positive role models are needed among the younger African American generation. He wants more success stories full of determination and grit. Like with Tehira Welch.

Named Princess for the day, Welch is a 10th grader at Gibbs and in the Visual Arts program. An aspiring artist, she is on her way to world-class fame. Not allowing her status as hearing impaired to dictate her future, Welch continues to overcome what most would see as an obstacle and has honed in on her skills as an artist and scholar.

The dinner continued with short speeches from Commissioner Ken Welch who spoke of the legacy of Gibbs High, encouraging the students to live their dreams, but to not forget to guide others.

“You all have so much responsibility to go out and achieve,” he said. “But I want to impress upon you, once you achieve, please come back and give back. Help that next generation at Gibbs, or anybody in our community.”

Clark summed up the dinner with food for thought equating success with manners and etiquette in public. “It’s not going to be how many doctorates you have,” he said emphasizing that even the highly intelligent have to make a good impression. “It’s going to be what kind of person you are, what kind of manners you have.” Royal gifts were given to all twelve members of the court and each left with full stomachs and a new appreciation on the importance of first impressions, proper dining etiquette and how to eat when in a social setting.

Let’s face it, projecting a positive persona in life is essential, and food is always center stage.

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