After giving a graduation speech for a group of Philadelphia schools for troubled youths on Friday night, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick stunned two of the graduates with $5,000 college scholarships.
The graduates of the Camelot Schools selected Vick as their speaker in a poll last month, above Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman. Camelot accepts students who drop out or get expelled from other schools, or students who fall at least two grade levels behind.
Given Vick’s checkered past, it appears like the choice was a no-brainer.
Before LeBron James took his talents to South Beach last summer, Michael Vick was quite possibly the most polarizing athlete in all of professional sports. Vick received a 23-month prison sentence for dogfighting charges, which caused a lot of NFL teams to give him the cold shoulder even after his release. After latching on with the Eagles, Vick took the NFL by storm this past year, most memorably with a six-touchdown performance against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football.
Long story short: If there’s any professional athlete qualified to speak about the value of second chances, it’s Vick.
“I had all the fame and fortune; I thought I was unstoppable,” Vick told the students on Friday. He said that after his conviction, “I lost my freedom, I lost my money, I lost my family.”
Vick also offered this sage advice for the graduates, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Think before you speak, think before you act, think before you make decisions in your life.” (How many 17- and 18-year-olds, not to mention the rest of us, don’t still need an occasional reminder about that message?)
Before leaving the stage, Vick broke out the biggest surprise of the day by announcing that graduates Monique Joseph and Rickey Savage would be receiving $5,000 college scholarships. Joseph is headed off to Penn State this fall, while Savage will be attending Virginia Union University, according to the Associated Press.
Camelot CEO Todd Bock told the AP that no one—not even the school staff—knew about the extent of the scholarships Vick would be awarding. Vick started a foundation for the scholarships, and plans on awarding them on an annual basis, based on academic achievement, participation in school government, and attendance.
“I stand before you today a changed man,” Vick told the students. “Use me as an example [of] how to become an instrument of change ... you can do it as well.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.