"Our futures have been laid out before us. We do not have to become a product of our environment. We are placed in situations in our lives that are out of our control, but here, at this school, we are in charge of our destinies. What each of us want to do, who each of us want to become in life, it's in our hands here."
Micah Jones, senior, future gynecologist
The word BELIEVE is scripted into the glass as you enter the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy on West Lake Mead Boulevard. It is also written on the school's gymnasium floor. You can't help but sense the hope here. You can't help but feel the spirit of learning.
It is an amazing place with amazing kids whose smiles are broader than any stadium where Agassi won his many championships.
Tennis was the reason for celebration Thursday, but the larger story than Agassi being inducted into his sport's hall of fame in July continues to be what those resources earned during a 20-year career have allowed him to accomplish with this school and others he plans to build across the country.
There is a saying about a man not leaving any better legacy to the world than a well-educated family.
What about the man whose goal is to educate tens of thousands?
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"Mr. Agassi has given each of us the opportunity to be better than we expected to be. He has given us a hope for a better future than most of us would normally have. He has given us a dream and goals to accomplish for ourselves and those who will come after us."
-- I'Jon McCoy, senior, future music major and veterinarian
Agassi Prep has grown from a structure that first offered one grade in 2001 to a sprawling K-through-12 tuition-free charter school for at-risk children, a remarkable setting of 655 students where opportunity seemingly presents itself each time another door opens. There is a waiting list. You can imagine how long it stretches.
McCoy speaks of playing drums for former President Clinton and the band Santana. Jones talks of how she begins each day aiding doctors and nurses on the labor and delivery floor of a local hospital before arriving for classes, and then returning to help feed babies and change diapers in the afternoon.
Meshayla Ennis, a senior who plans on attending Arizona State and studying broadcast journalism, recalls her and another student accompanying Agassi and wife Steffi Graf to the French Open a few years ago and playing doubles with the couple at Roland Garros, of returning home to her grandmother's tears when Meshayla told the story of lighting a candle for the family in a Catholic church in Paris.
"Mr. Agassi has opened doors to us that we would have never had otherwise," Ennis said. "He has put teachers and mentors in our lives to help us succeed, some who every day have told us knowledge is our power and power is our freedom. Whether he knows it or not, he has changed all of us."
They filed into the gymnasium on Thursday, from the tiniest of ones to those soon to be wearing caps and gowns and crossing the school's three-story sky bridge that signifies graduation, dressed in their school uniforms and waving signs to honor their founder, their friend, their arm to a better and brighter future.
There is no other place the announcement of Agassi's induction should have occurred, no more perfect location for this particular tennis great to be welcomed into such an exclusive club.
Grand Slam victories. Olympic gold medals. Davis Cup wins. Millions and millions of dollars in earnings. All fond memories.
But none of it compares to this school, to these kids, to the path set forth by an athlete who dreamed of making a difference far beyond his next win.
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"This is my family. You guys are my family. At many intersections of my life, people told me at different steps along the way that things weren't possible, that this school wasn't possible, that to have 100 percent graduation rate of our kids wasn't possible. I always want you to remember in your life that many people, hopefully not too many, will tell you the same things. When they do, I want you to think back to this day, to this moment, and remember me telling you these words -- don't listen to them."
-- Hall of Fame educator Andre Agassi who also happened to play a little tennis in his time.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM.