"Boys' Latin is the start of something very big, a new tradition to your neighborhood," Gov. Corbett told the inaugural class of the state's first single-sex college-preparatory charter school.
"In many ways you - the first graduating class - are the founders of your school," Corbett told the 79 young men who received their diplomas before a cheering audience of parents, friends, and supporters who packed the Zellerbach Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center for an emotion-laden, high-spirited commencement ceremony Monday.
"Schools don't brag about famous headmasters," Corbett said during his keynote address. "They brag about famous graduates. You now have an obligation to make this place known to the rest of the world."
Mayor Nutter, who also spoke, congratulated the graduates and their families, and said the city was proud of their accomplishments.
"You are trailblazers in the charter school movement," he said.
Boys' Latin, which opened in 2007 with 144 ninth graders, was the first single-sex charter approved in Pennsylvania. It also was the first publicly funded school in Philadelphia that required students to take Latin, and the first charter in the region modeled after the rigorous Boston Latin School.
Ninety-six percent of the graduates are going to college, with the vast majority heading to four-year schools.
Corbett, who said this was either his fourth or fifth commencement address this year, said it was the first where he teared up.
"I was watching them come in, and a couple of them had tears in their eyes, too," he told reporters after the ceremony. "What an eventful day for them. . . . What I got to see here today was that four years here prepared them very well for their next step - whether that's college or the workplace."
Tyree Robinson, the valedictorian, described the four-year journey he and his classmates had embarked upon.
"Before I came to Boys' Latin, I hated the idea of going to a single-sex school," he recalled. "I thought, 'There is no way I can survive four years in an all-boys school. I might have to leave at the end of this week.' But you know what? I made it. We made it."
And Robinson, who will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts in the fall, reminded his classmates that they had defied the odds in a city where just 10 percent of African American males are accepted to college.
"I am not a statistic but an exception," he said. "I am not powerless. I am powerful."
David P. Hardy, the school's founding chief executive officer, who choked up as he spoke, thanked the students and their parents for taking a chance on the school without even having a chance to visit it first.
In an interview, Hardy said that most of the students who left the Class of 2011 transferred to other schools after the ninth grade after concluding that the longer school days, the academic rigor, twice-monthly Saturday classes, mandatory Latin, and a strict behavior code were not for them.
He said he expects there will be less attrition in later classes because prospective students can now visit the school and talk to students who attend.
All but one of this year's 80 seniors graduated, and that student, Hardy said, is on track to collect his diploma after completing course work this summer.
Although Boys' Latin's novel educational program immediately attracted interest from prospective students and parents, its males-only admission policy initially caused controversy.
In January 2006, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission rejected the charter application after the Education Law Center, the Women's Law Project, and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia complained that a single-sex charter school would violate state and federal laws. Six months later, the commission reversed itself.
And a few months later, the U.S. Department of Education approved changes the federal Title IX regulations to give districts more flexibility to offer single-sex schooling, including publicly funded charter schools.
Located in a former Catholic school at 5501 Cedar Ave. in West Philadelphia, Boys' Latin enrolls 416 students in grades nine through 12.