Hundreds of graduating seniors from across the district’s three high schools —North, Central and South —walked the commencement stage last week to receive diplomas marking the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.
In many ways, this year’s three individual graduation ceremonies went off like any other. Beaming parents sat underneath a pitched tent at Junior High Memorial, cameras at the ready, as families and friends cheered the graduates in their ceremonial caps and gown.
A look back at the last four years shows these graduates came of age as high schoolers during a time of major school disruption caused by Covid-19. Major school events and activities were canceled or postponed. Students switched to a remote learning format. When they returned to school, they coped with mask-wearing and social distancing. More recently, they’ve contended with a mental health crisis and the worries and fears caused by an uptick in school gun violence.
“The one word I’d use to describe the class of 2022 is resilient,” South High Principal Maureen Henry told the graduating Falcons. “They’ve found a way to stay strong, positive, cooperative, and fun despite some very challenging times. Their energy, enthusiasm, and accomplishments will be remembered for many years.”
Parents like Osbourne Traill, who watched her daughter, Elizabeth, take the stage as the last of five children to graduate from South, seemed to agree.
“My son (who graduated in 2020) did not have a graduation like this one with his entire class,” said Traill, who remembers that groups of students would come at separate time slots to pick up their diplomas. “They never got the full experience of graduation, so we’ve come a long way. Remote learning was a challenge for everyone. No one was prepared.”
“This is my third kid to graduate in the district. We had to live with challenges like the remote classes,” said Oswaldo Pazmino, the father of Mark Pazmino.“We did everything as needed for the kids, but after the pandemic, things got better little by little. It’s a new beginning for them.”
“It was rough for students,” said Christine Rojos, a Central parent, who attended the South graduation for her niece. “I’m a parent too; my daughter graduated yesterday from Central. They had two years in school and then, in tenth grade, went home because of Covid. This class went through so many hurdles and this year, they finally had a full year of regular classes which was awesome. I am really proud of this class. They’ve been through a lot. They are very strong these kids.”
As students stood at then beginning of a new life chapter, they were focused less on dwelling on the hardships of the pandemic and more on expressing gratitude for the experiences and lessons learned as well as shared optimism and confidence for the days ahead.
“For students, graduation is one of the biggest signifiers of a transition to adulthood. We’re moving on from the tutorial of life to level one. Society is telling us: ‘Hey, you’re not a kid anymore!’” said Central High valedictorian Michael Sinclair at his address. “It’s going to be a long time to let adulthood sink in. Take charge of what you can and make choices that will benefit you. Choices like deciding to toil away at your job or take up a mental health break and watch Netflix all day. The latter is personally my favorite.”
“I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to the next chapter,” said North High graduate Adil Alli who plans on pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Alli said he used the pandemic as a time to self-reflect where he eventually discovered an interest in computer science.
Learning to live with the pandemic “was something new and different from everybody’s high school experience. I learned a lot of new things and gained a lot of new hobbies,” he said. “I learned how to build computers which sparked my interest in computer science. It was an eye-opening experience and definitely better than the traditional high school experience.”
“I feel great. I feel like it’s a new start. A start of new beginnings,” said North High graduate Justin de las Cuevas, who will be studying criminal justice at North Carolina Central University. “The pandemic affected me socially and socialization was really hard, but once everything started getting back to normal, things got better.”
“Welcome to the last chapter of your life,” said Central salutatorian Tanusha Osmani in her address.“Just kidding — there is much more to come. This year has been a rollercoaster of emotions. It amazes how we were able to get through so much. Congratulate yourselves.”
Additional reporting by Lilly Mulaney.
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