Can Celebrities Influence a Student’s Decision to Stay in School?

BY April Brown  April 26, 2013 at 3:08 PM EDT


Actor Mark Wahlberg encourages students at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., to stay in school. Photo by T.C. Williams Student Reporting Lab.

The Journal of Pediatrics recently released results of a study conducted in the United Kingdom that indicated celebrity endorsement of a food product increased a child’s consumption of it. In other words, celebrities seem to have an effect on the choices children make — which may not come as any big surprise. In this study, the food was chips (crisps in the British vernacular), but what if a celebrity is pushing something other than junk food? Something wholesome even? An idea.

Former rapper/model-turned-actor/producer Mark Wahlberg recently visited T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., to encourage students to do something he didn’t — graduate from high school. Wahlberg and the MTV personality Sway came to the campus because it garnered some of the highest numbers of online pledges to graduate in the national getschooled.com competition.

While Wahlberg managed to become successful and wealthy without earning a walk in the traditional cap and gown, he told students at this high school near Washington, D.C., that he regretted his decision to dropout.

“If my career goes south, I’m working at McDonald’s. I’m driving a tow truck,” Wahlberg told a packed room. “That’s why I’m going back to high school.”

Even though he’s now in his 40′s with a busy career and family, Wahlberg has started an online credit recovery program to finally get that diploma.

PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Lab at T.C. Williams covered the event at their school. We asked student reporter Lora Strum to find out if Wahlberg’s words influenced her classmates’ thoughts on earning their own diplomas. Here is what they had to say:

Sam, junior

“I think that students will be inspired by Mark Wahlberg’s words. Aside from the fact that he’s a big star, he came from humble beginnings, which a lot of people [at T.C. Williams] can relate to.”

Sarah, senior

“Mark’s visit to our school was a great star-struck moment. But I think a movie star encouraging kids to stay in school is so removed from real life. I think it’s superficial of the administration to think that a movie star with a ‘wink and a smile’ will inspire kids to graduate from high school.”

Antonio, junior

“I believe that Mark’s appearance was inspirational and affected many people’s paths to graduation. His speech really made people realize that graduation is one of the biggest steps towards a successful future.”

Sydney, junior

“I think it’s great that he comes to schools to speak. It is meaningful because like it or not kids look up to celebrities probably more than anyone else. So if they give a positive message and kids listen and act on it, that’s a good thing.”

Emma, senior

“I think he really does regret not graduating high school, especially since he’s taking the time to get his diploma and speak to students about the importance of graduating. But it’s kind of misleading that he didn’t graduate and [yet] somehow became a movie star.”

Kieran, senior

“As a soon-to-be graduating senior, Mark Wahlberg’s message is less directed to me right now, but will help motivate me during my college years.”

Alaiyah, senior

“I admire his honesty. When he said ‘If my acting career [went south] I’m [was] going to be working at McDonalds,’ he implied that a high school diploma is all that more necessary.”

Photos by Lora Strum.