For hundreds of high school seniors in Prince George's County, graduation is a time of great promise, although it brings a great deal of uncertainty about the future. Yet this month's graduates can look to the prosperity and success of past students from both public and private schools.

Despite some image problems in the past, Prince George's County public schools have produced celebrities such as middleweight boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard (Parkdale), puppeteer Jim Henson (Northwestern), Maryland Secretary of State and former Prince George's County executive Winfield Kelly (Bladensburg), actress Karen Allen (Duval) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (Suitland).

And the private schools have also had a string of successful graduates, including television commentator James Brown, Detroit Piston forward Adrian Dantley, both from DeMatha, and real estate entrepreneur Dale Denton of Bishop McNamara.

When Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) graduated from Suitland High School in 1957 he had no intention of going into politics.

"My uncle had a public relations firm in New York, and I thought I'd go to work for him or in that field," Hoyer recalled of his early years at the University of Maryland. "Then John Kennedy spoke at Maryland in 1959, and I got very excited about him as a candidate and an individual." Hoyer said that "about the next week" he switched his course of study to a pre-law program with the ultimate aim of entering politics.

Shortly after graduating from Georgetown Law School, Hoyer was elected to the Maryland state Senate. From 1975 to 1978 he served as president of that body, becoming the youngest person in state history to hold the post. After an unsuccessful bid to become lieutenant governor in 1978, Hoyer was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1981 in a special election to replace Rep. Gladys Spellman, D-Md.

Although he entered politics at age 27, Hoyer did not feel ill-equipped for the job. He credits his extra-curricular activities with helping prepare him for politics. "I was active in student government at Suitland, and my experience in various activities, including the Young Democrats, all were very helpful."

Hoyer sees a similarity between his classmates at Suitland and the high school students of today. "Today's student is probably more like the student of the 50s than was the student of the late 60s or early 70s," he said. "I think the generation in high school today is very responsible."

When Laurel Elementary School Principal Kathleen James was in sixth grade she knew that she wanted to be a teacher. "I knew I wanted to be in public service {and} I always had a positive experience in school," said James, a 1966 graduate of DuVal High School.

Today, James tries to provide the same kind of experience for her students. "I think the biggest thing we need to do as educators is make sure that our students have strong self-concepts," she said.

James received an 1984-85 Prince George's County Outstanding Educators Award for her efforts at Calverton Elementary School.

At DuVal, James was a member of the student council, National Honor Society, and, appropriately, the Future Teachers of America. She remembers DuVal's positive, nurturing environment. "There were 900 students in our class," she said. "But even though it was a large class our teachers tried to encourage camaraderie in all our activities.

Last summer, James ran into one of her former students at a 7-Eleven store. "I had him in the fifth grade, and now he works for Merrill Lynch," she said. "He was talking about what a positive experience it had been, how I had taken the time to work with him. He said he would never forget it. "That's satisfying."

By the time CBS and WUSA-TV sports commentator James Brown was 18 years-old, he was already a minor celebrity of sorts. A prep basketball all-America for DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Brown was a prized college prospect. After weighing numerous collegiate offers, Brown attended Harvard on an academic/financial need scholarship.

"There is a perception of Harvard as the bastion of academic America, but because I had a strong academic background at DeMatha, I always knew I could compete," recalled Brown, who majored in American Government.

In 1973, after being selected all-Ivy League for the third straight year, he was chosen in the fourth round of the National Basketball Association draft by the Atlanta Hawks. A week before the season began, the Hawks released him.

Forced to re-evaluate his career plans, Brown worked at a sales position at Xerox. Soon after, he began a stint as a commentator on Washington Bullets TV broadcasts.

"I got very involved in the corporate environment at Xerox and had a good job. But when the broadcasting position became open I jumped at the opportunity to get back into sports -- even on the periphery," said Brown, who juggled his job at Xerox with broadcasting before deciding to devote his full attention to sports.

"It almost sounds corny, but I couldn't be happier with what I'm doing," Brown said. "Sometimes it's still hard for me to believe that I could get paid for doing something I love."

By his own admission, Dale Denton was not a model high school student. "I always felt that school was not necessarily the only route I could take to get me where I wanted to go. I've always been an 'immediate results' person. I like to see signs that things are working."

Today, Denton, 36, is the owner of Dale Denton Real Estate, Inc., in Washington. The "signs" he once sought are now on houses all over the area -- signs which bear the name of the business he built.

"Because of the way I was raised, I've always been a hard worker. I was taught how to work, and it stayed with me," said Denton, who spent his last two years of high school at Bishop McNamara in Forestville.

After graduating from Elon (N.C) College in 1973, he returned to the Washington area to work a series of jobs. "I began to read up on real estate and decided I wanted to start my own company. I didn't have any real training; I started by riding around picking up listings {of available property} and borrowing money for advertising. Then I found someone who was willing to let me act as their agent, and I was able to make my first sale."

"For four-to-five years, I worked 16-to-18 hour days, seven days a week. But it wasn't until the last two years that we've been able to make it fly," he said. "People thought I was a workaholic, but I'm not, really. I sacrificed my time for those years because I had to to make the business work. Now I'm able to cut back, spend with my family and have fun."