JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

One of the most popular comedians and television fathers of the last generation paid a visit to Raines High School on Thursday -- the kick-off event of a two-day education summit in Jacksonville.

Bill Cosby -- an education activist and honorary doctor -- joined with city, county and state leaders, educators and parents asking one question: What it will take to take Duval County's schools to the next level?

Cosby challenged Raines' students to challenge themselves and take advantage of every opportunity available to them. He touched on the importance of studying, showing respect and making a contribution to society from outside of jail.

"Ask people to help you," Cosby said. " Don't be embarrassed."

Cosby said the alternative to a good education is not pleasant: life on the streets, or worse.

"People have guns in there and you don't," Cosby said. "People have sticks in there to hit you, and you don't. It's your head they are looking at. Jail is not a fun place."

Based on essays they wrote about the importance of education and what they hope to achieve, five students were selected to have one-on-one conversations with Cosby.

"He asked about what we wanted to major in and if we had done research on it," said senior Ahmon Lott. "He was down to earth and beat all my expectations."

Cosby was impressed by the students he met.

"The spirit of the readers, their composition was wonderful," Cosby said.

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown also spoke to Raines' students.

"I believe when you empower young people academically, you can achieve economically, because education gives you options," Brown said.

Sophomore Ebonee Maxey said having both Cosby and Brown visit Raines is "great motivation."

"Both my parents promote education, but having a famous celebrity and the first African-American mayor in Jacksonville, it was awesome," Maxey said. "The greatest thing in my life."

"I would like to leave you with a quote from Bill Cosby," senior Ahmon Lott said. "The past is a ghost, the future is a dream, all we have is now."

Friday's summit session at the Jacksonville Public Library's main branch downtown is open to the public. The first of five sessions begins at 8 a.m. Online registration is closed, but the city says if you want to go, go to the library and it will try to get you in. For more information, visit COJ.net/mayor/education/education-summit.aspx.