When Whitehaven High School principal Vincent Hunter initiated the Memphis school’s first Academic Signing Day last year, he modeled the event after the highly publicized national signing days for high school football and basketball players.

Hunter wanted to ensure that academic achievements were celebrated and publicized just as well.

On Friday, 51 seniors became the school’s latest group dubbed “million dollar scholars” — those who have earned at least $1 million worth of academic scholarships. Each student was brought onstage as his or her grand total in scholarships was announced, along with their college choice. Some had earned upwards of $4 million in scholarships.

“There’s a belief that Whitehaven is dying, that there’s no hope. These students are showing us otherwise,” Hunter said at the program’s close.

Academic signing days have become increasingly popular across the nation as school leaders seek to recognize and celebrate their schools’ academic all-stars, as well as encourage underclassmen to strive for similar success.

Whitehaven is in Shelby County Schools, which includes a disproportionately high number of students who are minorities, have disabilities, and live in extreme poverty.

Whitehaven High School congregates for its National Academic Signing Day program.
Whitehaven High School congregates for its National Academic Signing Day program.

In 2014-2015, the school’s students received $85 million in academic scholarships.

Whitehaven is one of the district’s optional schools, with a focus on college prep. Open since 1927, the southeast Memphis school has a storied history and a proud alumni and serves mostly economically disadvantaged students.

Among those in attendance at Friday’s program was district Superintendent Dorsey Hopson, a 1990 graduate of Whitehaven.