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At St. Thomas Aquinas, a dramatically different Signing Day
At St. Thomas Aquinas, a dramatically different Signing Day
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21 seniors participate in the inaugural signing event for Fine Arts!

Signing Day is a well-synchronized ceremony at Fort Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas High School, an illustrious football powerhouse where, every February, in a rite distinguished by frenzied pageantry, a parade of athletes reveal their college choices under the bright lights of ESPN and Instagram, as loved ones, coaches and fans across the country look on.

Such was the scene this week at the school's gleaming Bienes Center, where a standing-room-only crowd gathered to witness star seniors make public their college intentions. School administrators were present, new outfits were purchased for the occasion, parents took time off from work, friends and teachers stayed on campus after school, brothers combed their hair. This was a big deal.

One by one, 17 recruits had their names read aloud, the final syllables often drowned out by applause as they made their way at the front of the auditorium to a table covered by a crisp white cloth. Commemorative pens, a keepsake, were handed to each student.

While media members took notes and video cameras zoomed in, the ritual reached its climax as smiling teens sat down next to beaming moms and dads and signed the document, their heads topped with hats bearing familiar colors and insignias: the University of Miami, Florida State, Florida, Michigan, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Ringling College of Art and Design, and the New School College of Performing Arts.

Wait, what now?

While the afternoon had all the trappings of the school's traditional football ceremony, Wednesday's event was the inaugural Fine Arts Signing Day at St. Thomas Aquinas, a gathering created to honor the accomplishments of top arts students in a manner typically reserved for blogged-about athletes. The ceremony was the brainchild of Jerry Seeger, director of the drama department at St. Thomas.

"These kids showcase some of the other wonderful qualities about St. Thomas Aquinas High School. We're known for sports, and that's an easy thing in this country that's consumed by sports," he said after the ceremony. "But when you have kids who have many talents in a bunch of different areas, it's nice to showcase all of them."

The students came from across the arts spectrum, including painters, illustrators, visual artists, actors, architects, singers, songwriters and filmmakers. They follow in the footsteps of famous nonsports alumni, including actor Billy Crudup, best-selling author Michael Connelly and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Courtney Marsh.

A three-sport athlete at his Illinois high school and unrepentant sports nut who used to paint his shaved head for football games, Seeger sees parallels between the long hours of lonely self-discipline required of athletes and those honing their craft in the arts. The reward for that hard work, a college career and all the promise that comes with it, is something all students and parents deserve to celebrate, Seeger said. Plus, the football team and girls soccer team are not the only squads to bring glory to St. Thomas this year: Seeger's students last month won state titles in two categories at the Florida State Thespians competition.

Seeger said the Fine Arts Signing Day idea was quickly embraced by Denise Aloma, the school's principal, and Robert Mulder, chairman of the school's fine arts department, both of whom spoke during Wednesday's ceremony. Seeger hopes to make it at annual event, something that may be re-created at other high schools in South Florida.

"When you have a school like St. Thomas Aquinas, known for sports, also recognizing its arts programs, other schools can say, 'Hey, you know, we have an incredible arts program, too,' " he said. "There are some incredible arts programs down here. ... It is amazing what is around here that a lot of people don't know about."

While the documents the students signed on Wednesday were ceremonial — it had been weeks or months since most students had accepted spots at their chosen schools — the symbolism of the event sent a message to the kids and their parents.

"It's groundbreaking," said Michael Dufek, an actor and writer wearing a ball cap with the logo of the New School in New York. "I don't know of any other schools that do it, and it really shows that St. Thomas puts arts to a standard just like sports."

Yves Poitevien, of Hollywood, was at the ceremony to support daughter Ashley-Marie, who will study theater at FSU, which she picked over UF, UCF, FAU and Temple. He left impressed.

"I was surprised, pleasantly so, though, because I know they do this for sports all the time," Yves Poitevien said. "It's something good to recognize the kids and help motivate them to continue to do what they're pursuing."

One of the perks for students taking part in Signing Day was being allowed to ditch their school uniforms for the day, as football players do in wearing jerseys to class on game day. Dufek came in precisely the kind of zany Topman suit you'd expect from a guy whose goal is to write for "Saturday Night Live."

In the hallway, friends on the football team expressed support for Fine Arts Signing Day, he said.

"They thought it was pretty cool. They were wondering where I got my clothes from," Dufek said, laughing.

While the intent of Fine Arts Signing Day was to mimic the atmosphere of the athletes' ceremony, the goal was sincerity, not parody, Seeger said, describing athletics, academics and the arts as equal parts of the well-rounded learning and social environment the school tries to foster. He encourages his students to go to the school's sports events, as is his habit, and spoke appreciatively about the players and coaches he has seen making time to attend theater productions and concerts.

While time demands don't allow many athletes to take part in plays and musicals, Seeger said that quarterback Jake Rudock, a 2011 graduate now playing with the NFL's Detroit Lions, appeared in a couple of his productions.

Athletic director George Smith and football coach Roger Harriott have been particularly supportive, he said.

"I won the Broward County Theater Teacher of the Year award last year, and Coach Smith and Coach Harriott called me at 8:30 the next morning to congratulate me," Seeger said. "They were the first ones to congratulate me other than my boss that night. That just blew me away."

Seeger, a gregarious sort, spent most of his time trying to avoid the media attention being given to his idea. "It's about the kids," he said.

Along with Dufek and Poitevien, other students taking part in the inaugural Fine Arts Signing Day at St. Thomas Aquinas High School were Ashley Abreu (headed to UCF to study photography), Patricia Burgos (Ringling College, illustration), Barbarella Castillo (UM, studio art), Connor Dolan (Washington University, visual arts), Sofia Isaac (UF, visual arts), Sloane Leiva (Florida Gulf Coast University, art), Manuela Rodriguez (Art Institute of Chicago, fine arts) and Maria Sobrino (UF, art).

The music department was represented by Nicolas Chang (Full Sail University, music production), Maria Garay (Full Sail University, music business), Anthony Montalto (UF, music performance) and Alanna Quiton (UF, music composition).

Also signing were Allison Marble (North Carolina State, architecture), Michelle Palm Martin (Michigan, theater and dramatic arts) and Christopher Rodriguez (Emerson College, film/screenwriting).

For a complete list of signees and pictures from the event click here!

Crandell, B. (2017, April 27). At St. Thomas Aquinas, a dramatically different Signing Day. Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved from http://www.southflorida.com/theater-and-arts/sf-st...



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