Valerie Jarrett, Don Thompson, Jackie Joyner Kersee and Liz Thompson.

One Goal raised more than $1 million towards expanding its college access and success program during the organization’s annual Graduation Gala at the Palmer House Hilton. The Graduation Gala celebrates OneGoal’s graduating high school seniors on track to earning a college degree, as well the organization’s partners and supporters. This year the event honored Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to Barack Obama during his presidency, with the John J. Dugan Award for her life-long commitment to social justice and education.

Notable attendees of the Graduation Gala included Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox; Former Chicago Bear, Israel Idonije; Chief Education Officer for Chicago Public Schools, Janice Jackson; Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Co-Founder and Director of Groupon Brad Keywell and Kim Keywell, GrubHub CEO, Matt Maloney and Holly Maloney, Don and Liz Thompson, and Jessica Droste Yagan and Sam Yagan.

Prior to starting the public event, Valerie Jarrett, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Don and Liz Thompson met with OneGoal students for an open dialogue on topics like what to expect from college, achieving personal success, and sources of inspiration.

“The best advice, I say, is own your life,” Jarrett said. “Tell your story. Your story is an important one to tell. … Feel this sense of empowerment for your own future. If you do that then you can go a hundred different directions but you pick the one that’s right for you.”

Jarrett then shared additional remarks during the main event, which also included remarks by OneGoal-Chicago Executive Director Sarah Berghorst, Kelvyn Park High School teacher Darren Tuggle, and OneGoal student Alejandro Rios.

“During the first two years of high school I had bad grades, and on top of that, I had no motivation,” Rios said. “I still doubted my abilities. And this was exactly the moment that OneGoal changed my life.”

“OneGoal became like my family, and I started to realize my true potential,” he said. “Ms. O’Leary introduced me to what college is like, taught me how to apply to college, and helped me understand why it’s important for me to go to college. She gave me information that I couldn’t get anywhere else. … I am finally on track to graduate from college.”

One Goal Fellows

One Goal’s CEO Jeff Nelson closed the night by sharing news of the organization’s ambitious five-year plan to address the nation’s achievement gap and the organization’s ambitious goal of making the earning of a college degree accessible to all students, no matter their socioeconomic status.

“We fundamentally believe that all students have the ability, and deserve the opportunity, to earn a postsecondary degree,” Nelson said. “OneGoal, in its next five years, will not only work toward unprecedented college completion goals for our Fellows, but will build products, practices and partnerships to enable us to close the degree divide in our lifetime.”

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