Leslie Odom Jr. performs at The Pittsburgh Promise Gala
Joshua Devine, Abigail Lutton, Vanessa Thompson and Michael Warren might never have gone to college if it weren’t for The Pittsburgh Promise.
Warren, a Pittsburgh CAPA graduate, received a bachelor of science in music education and a master of education administration K-12 from Duquesne University. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in educational leadership at Duquesne.
He emceed Saturday’s “A Night of Promise” gala at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, Downtown.
“I wasn’t supposed to graduate high school, let alone go to college,” said Warren, who was in foster care before being adopted. “I was a challenging kid. College became a reality, and not just a dream, because of The Pittsburgh Promise.”
The Pittsburgh Promise funds scholarships for post-secondary access for graduates of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. It has invested more than $130 million in scholarships for 9,339 students.
It began with a $100 million commitment from UPMC. Students can receive up to $20,000 over four years if they meet grade requirements. The funds may be used at any accredited school in Pennsylvania, both academic and trade/technical.
Devine, Lutton, Thompson and Warren shared their stories at the event. Devine, a Pittsburgh Allderdice graduate, received a bachelor of science degree in community, environment, and development from Penn State University. Lutton, a Brashear graduate, received a bachelor of arts in economics and a bachelor of science in business both from Penn State University. Thompson, a Pittsburgh Westinghouse graduate, received a bachelor of arts in psychology from Chatham University.
Tony Award winner Leslie Odom Jr., a Carnegie Mellon University graduate known for his work in the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” headlined the gala. He is the author of “Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning,” published in 2018.
Odom took the stage for a 45-minute performance. Warren joined Odom to sing “Dear Theodosia” from “Hamilton.” It was another dream come true for Warren.
“That was mind-blowing,” Warren said. “To be on stage with Leslie Odom Jr. was an honor and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If I had never been a part of The Pittsburgh Promise, this amazing evening would never have happened. The Pittsburgh Promise invested in me.”
According to a news release, high school graduation rates and college-going rates for Promise-eligible students have increased 12% since the inception of the program in 2006.
Nearly 3,000 scholarship recipients have graduated with a post-secondary degree; many are now employees of over 200 regional companies.
Odom recognized the work of The Pittsburgh Promise between songs.
“Hello Pittsburgh,” Odom said. “You guys are doing God’s work, and I am so excited, and blessed, to be a part of this.”
Giving students such as Warren opportunities through education is the mission of The Pittsburgh Promise which was the idea of former Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Mark Roosevelt, who was honorary chair. He received a standing ovation.
“Pittsburgh, you know what big dreams and hard work can do,” Roosevelt said. “The Pittsburgh Promise is a dream that can transform lives.”
F.N.B. Corporation, parent company of Pittsburgh-based First National Bank, was the title sponsor for the event. CEO Vincent J. Delie Jr. said The Pittsburgh Promise means a lot to him because he grew up on the North Side.
“There are so many talented young people, and The Pittsburgh Promise creates opportunities for these individuals to get an education,” said Delie. “This event is a celebration of a promise to students.”
Pittsburgh Promise executive director Saleem Ghubril said he was thankful for all of the support to help open doors for urban youth.
“It gives me goose bumps when I think about how Pittsburgh has been behind the promise,” Ghubril said “The support says, ‘I believe in you.’ ”
The Pittsburgh Promise has helped changed so many lives, said Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, chairman of its board of directors. He told the more than 800 guests that $265 million was needed to be raised to keep the program going.
“We are proud of The Pittsburgh Promise, and we want it to continue,” Harris said. “It offers these kids an opportunity to chase a goal and live a dream.”
It is important to help provide education to young people, said Kiya Tomlin, board treasurer and owner of Kiya Tomlin/Work Shop. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is her husband.
Kiya Tomlin said an education can help young people find a path in life. She said meeting the students The Pittsburgh Promise has helped is special because you realize you made a difference.
“One of the students donated $10,000 back after they got a job,” Tomlin said. “That’s impressive. This individual was thankful for what The Pittsburgh Promise does.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .