PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Hundreds of Pittsburgh Promise students are graduating from college, and to celebrate, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl helped kick off a special community service effort Thursday.

There’s a lot of excitement this year with the Pittsburgh Promise, and the message to graduates is “we want you back!”

“A lot of us would not be able to attend a four-year university without your help,” said Teireik Williams, a high school senior.

Williams is headed off to Penn State thanks to the Pittsburgh Promise.

Currently, a CAPA High School student, Williams is one of the 1,200 graduating seniors eligible for the increased $40,000 in Promise scholarship money for higher education.

But Superintendent Dr. Linda Lane is telling students to not forget Pittsburgh as they leave for school.

“We want you back,” she said. “Because there are young people in this city who need your skills and talents so they can do what you’re about to do.”

Before the scholarship money was even in their hands, hundreds of students gave back to the city; for example, seniors from Brashear High School volunteering their time at Fowler Park on the North Side.

To date, more than 3,200 students have received around $24 million so far in Promise scholarships.

Mayor Ravenstahl says he could have never imagined the enormous success of the Promise.

“The Pittsburgh Promise is now the largest program of its kind anywhere in the country,” he said.

This year also marks the first round of four-year college graduates who received the Promise at its inception.

But it’s also a special year for Pittsburgh Public Schools, celebrating its 100th year of graduation ceremonies, and apparently getting better with time and with a stronger promise to students.

“We have doubled the number of schools that are meeting federal standards and have increased the graduation rates by at least eight percent,” said Saleem Ghubril, of the Pittsburgh Promise.

The celebration doesn’t end here. It’ll continue as a two-week celebration with hundreds of students volunteering all over the city.

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Heather Abraham