James M. Berklan

Every few months, it seems that high school districts publish photos and news of athletes signing “letters of intent” to further their careers in college. Originally, this began as Johnny or Janey Allstater landing that big all-expenses-paid scholarship to State U., or worse, Notre Dame.

In the spirit of recognizing more student-athletes, high schools have expanded to include photos of proud high schoolers and parents signing their way into colleges both large and small, famous and not. And it doesn’t matter which sport they play any more. Even fair-to-middling bowlers, cross country runners and others get their heyday along with the basketball and football players. Good for them.

But one oddity about this is that quite often the student-athlete is signing a “letter” that doesn’t exist. I don’t mean that they’re holding a pen over a blank piece of paper. I think we all “get” the concept of simulation for a photo. My point is they often are declaring their intent to play at a school that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships, or even academic grants for the player involved in many instances. In other words, they’re committing to a place that says, well, as long as you keep signing the tuition checks, we’ll let you come play, or try to play. This seems awfully one-sided — in favor of the schools.

The other thing that is so odd? By and large, only athletes get this attention. OK, some very musically oriented schools might announce honors for band or orchestra members, but that’s relatively rare and it usually reflects on only honors earned in high school. We don’t see photos of student musicians signing their intent to play at some college.

And pure academic high-performers? Don’t get me started. Earn the big-buck foundation scholarship, baby, or mum’s the word. Nobody is going to publish a photo of you signing your college entry form.

Which brings us to a cool photo and announcement sent to me last week by John Matson, the communications director of the Alabama Nursing Home Association. 

Featured in the picture are six Southern Union State Community College students on their “signing day.” Their commitments are to pursue careers in nursing, specifically long-term care nursing.


I’m aware there are similar efforts and programs around the country, but this one really gets it right.

The Alabama Nursing Home Association has partnered with the Alabama Community College System so that member nursing facilities can hire nursing students, dole out scholarships and provide other assistance, ultimately leading to full-time positions after graduation.

Signing Day for Alabama community college students.
It’s Signing Day for future long-term care nurses in Alabama!*

The idea that we might celebrate and publicize who’s going to take care of Grandma and Grandpa when they’re frail and in need of daily assistance is beyond clever. And it’s a whole lot more fulfilling than publicizing some jock who will throw or shoot a ball for the team with cheerleaders and snazzy uniforms.

Isn’t this what schools and others should be celebrating more often? Don’t get me wrong. As somebody who sweated it out for numerous high school and college athletic teams, I recognize and applaud the value of team sports.

But with the broader world and society now in mind, I more readily applaud the celebration of those who step forward to contribute to society after the college keggars and sorority parties are over.

The first Alabama Signing Day for the Alabama Nursing Career Pathways (ACNP) initiative is very noteworthy. ANCP is a statewide community college initiative that pairs nursing students with employers for workplace externships. The externships are specialized seven-month training programs that pay students a salary and provide scholarships for their education in critically needed healthcare fields.

Employers also sign commitments with the externs to cover the cost of licensures throughout the externship, as well as grant the externs two years of employment after completing the externship. The ANCP externships will be available to nursing students statewide by 2024.

So bravo to the Alabama Nursing Home Association and its partners in this endeavor — and to any other associations or companies that are seeding high school and junior college populations with scholarships and encouragement. And, yes, signing day photos.

May there be many more out there in the future.

* Here’s a list of the six Southern Union students and the nursing homes they’ve signed with:
Victoria Bearden Harrison of Auburn; Dadeville Healthcare Center
Aubry Gray of Phenix City; Arbor Springs Health & Rehab Center
Michelle Elliott of Opelika; Arbor Springs Heal & Rehab Center
Frankie Ammons of Auburn; Arbor Springs Health & Rehab Center
Shamel Hart of Auburn; SNF at East Alabama Medical Center
Shontesia Austin of Auburn; SNF at East Alabama Medical Center

Follow Executive Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.