Dr. Dakeyan Graham, Florida Teacher of the Year finalist, spoke to Lithia Springs Elementary School fifth grade graduation.

Fifth grade students at Valrico’s Lithia Springs Elementary School received inspiration from a special former student last month. Dr. Dakeyan Graham, Hillsborough County’s Teacher of the Year for 2019 and one of five finalists for 2020’s Florida Teacher of the Year, spoke at the school’s fifth grade banquet 23 years after attending the school himself.

Graham, who was a student at Lithia Springs for third through fifth grades and attended Burns and Rodgers Middle Schools, teaches Band, Orchestra and Music Theory at King High School, his alma mater. He also received his Bachelor and Master degrees in Music Education from the University of Florida and his PhD from the University of South Florida.

Lithia Springs Principal Kevin Martin invited Graham to speak at the school’s fifth grade banquet after hearing about his Teacher of the Year success.

“Dr. Graham was amazing with our students,” said Martin. “His message was about having a dream and that you get one hundred percent of what you put into your dream back out. The students were tuned in throughout and I noticed multiple parents approaching him afterwards and thanking him.”

Graham felt the banquet was a great opportunity for him to make an impact on the students as they move on to middle school with the new opportunities that come with that transition.

“I wanted to help the students remember how important it is to have a dream and keep that dream at the forefront as they experience new things,” said Graham, whose parents still live in the Bloomingdale home where he grew up. “Success comes when you don’t allow your circumstances to dictate your future.”

The next step for Graham on his Florida Teacher of the Year journey is an interview in Tallahassee later this month. The winner will be announced in mid-July.

“Teaching is my passion,” said Graham, who taught approximately 240 students during the 2018-19 school year. “It is amazing to me that I can give individualized attention to and help guide so many growing minds.”

Lithia Springs Elementary School is located at 4332 Lynx Paw Trl. in Valrico and can be reached at 744-8016. Visit www.lithiasprings.mysdhc.org.