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‘Mentor,’ ‘Friend,’ ‘Second Father:’ King Students Salute Dr. Dre, Florida’s Teacher Of Year

When most people hear the name “Dr. Dre” they probably think of the famous rapper.

But some King High School students associate the name with a different musician – their band director, Dr. Dakeyan Chá Dré Graham. 

Graham, whose students refer to him fondly as "Dr. Dre," recently won Florida’s Teacher of the Year award.

One reason Graham may know how to serve King High School students so well is that he attended the school himself as a teenager.

He has been teaching at King for 10 years, and many of his students say he has made a profound impact on their lives.

When WUSF reached out to the community to ask for feedback about Graham, the response from current and former students was overwhelmingly positive.

Dr. Graham and Sam Estes smiling in graduation garb.
Credit Sam Estes
Graham poses with Sam Estas at a King High School graduation ceremony.

Sam Estes

“He has been an amazing mentor and friend to me. He was one of the reasons why I am beginning study as a music educator. So many times in life you have teachers that truly impact you; Dr. Graham was one of these teachers. He was a person who constantly invested his music expertise in me but also invested in me by teaching me life skills. He taught me how to be a good leader, a great communicator and is a model for the kind of teacher I want to be."

Hailey Derigo, Graham, and other King High School students pose at graduation.
Credit Hailey Derigo
Haley Derigo, Graham, and other King High School students pose at graduation.

Hailey Derigo:

“I have been so privileged and honored to have had Dr. Graham as my instructor and role model. Dr. Graham taught me the most impactful lessons on leadership, never failed to make me feel welcomed, important and safe, and inspired passion both in music and in life like no other. Dr. Graham helped me to find my voice. He leads by example always, and his influence has left a positive impact on every one of his students and connects us still today.” 

Breanna Moore posing with Graham, Florida's Teacher of the Year.
Credit Breanna Moore
Breanna Moore posing with Graham, Florida's Teacher of the Year.

Breanna Moore:

“Dr. Graham is worthy of this title because of his dedication to knowing his students by more than just their face and their name. He provides a safe space for his students to escape to when life gets to be too much. Throughout much of my high school career, my mother was very sick, but Dr. Graham was a big reason why I kept my head held high. He listens and he encourages and he never makes you feel invisible. He’s truly a great instructor and an even greater friend.”

Graham poses outside with students.
Credit Hannah Gassen
Graham attended King High School as a teenager, now he is band director and Florida's new Teacher of the Year.

Hannah Gassen:

“What makes Dr. Graham such an exceptional teacher is how much he cares. Dr. Graham gives his all for his program and his students. For me personally, Dr. Graham was a motivational speaker, a mentor, a part of my support system and a friend. He created a family in the music department so much so that the rest of King High believes that band is a cult.

"He has inspired me to be a better musician, leader and person. The memories we created together are some that I will always cherish. Dr. Graham has made King High School feel like a home for so many students. I can’t imagine anyone else winning this award.” 

Dr. Graham "is loved unconditionally," Natasha Johnson said.
Credit Natasha Johnson
Dr. Graham "is loved unconditionally," Natasha Johnson said.

Natasha Johnson:

“Dr. Graham has inspired not only myself, but so many other students of his. He is constantly there for his students and giving his all toward the band program. He wants to see his students do amazing things in life and is there for them nonstop. Dr. Graham never fails to amaze me. He is loved unconditionally!”

Dr. Graham pushes students "to be the realest version of themselves."
Credit Shana-Marie Ziegler
Dr. Graham pushes students "to be the realest version of themselves."

Shana-Marie Ziegler:

“He gets to know each student and pushes them to be the realest version of themselves. He is also available all the time so if anyone has questions or just needs to talk he's there.”

Rahul Danda:

"Dr. Graham was a really open and nice teacher. Last year when I was a freshman, I was trying to transition into high school life and Dr. Graham helped me so much. He created a band/orchestra "family" where you could come to if you ever had a problem and that helped me and many other freshmen get into the high school flow better. He made band our safe place so we could go there no matter what."

Lixin Zheng:

"His passion and dedication to not only music but his students. His ability to connect with his students and form connections. His ability to teach not only music but life lessons to all of us."

Natisha Johnson:
"Not only is he a teacher, he is a mentor, influencer, and to me like a second father. He loves his students as if they are his own kids and will take the extra mile for all of his students, even the ones who have graduated."

Carrie Pinkard is the Stephen Noble news intern for the summer 2019 semester. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University in English, before heading to USF St Pete to pursue a master’s in journalism.
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