Arriving at Zoo Atlanta on Wednesday for the Class of 2021 Valedictorian/Salutatorian/STAR Student Awards Ceremony, I could feel a deep sense of anticipation coming over me. This opportunity presented an important shift. Today, we would celebrate in person!
As I moved about the 37 young men and women, I shared how our recent transition from virtual to face-to-face mirrored the transition they must make now that they are on the cusp of graduation. Now was the time for them to take all their lessons, experiences, and accomplishments and put them into motion as they make their own marks in college, in their careers, and in their lives.
After Wendy Nevarez-Sanchez, valedictorian and STAR student for South Atlanta High School, formally introduced me, I could not wait to present the annual challenge for our most accomplished students.
The Challenge to our Val/Sal and Star Students!
In years past, we gathered at the Georgia Power building for a well-appointed breakfast ceremony to honor the best of the best of our young scholars and some of our dedicated teachers.
A pandemic precluded us from gathering there. But, thanks to Zoo Atlanta and our sponsor, Georgia Power, we are able to celebrate our students among the beautiful diversity and inspiring wildlife. We may be at the trailing end of this pandemic, but through dedication, perseverance, and a true love of our students, our district leaders, your principals, your teachers, your graduation coaches, your counselors, and your families … all of them have come together to make sure we could have an incredible in-person celebration for our scholars.
Together, the Class of 2021 has become a high school graduating class for the history books. For years to come, people will know exactly what you mean when you say, “I was in the Class of 2021.”
Many of us have parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who brag about their own school day trials and tribulations. They had to walk three miles, five miles, and ten miles every day– uphill both ways and in driving snow during the winter – just to get to school.
By virtue of being in the Class of 2021 – a pioneering class in Atlanta Public Schools that has faced a pandemic along with civic unrest – you now have your own tales to tell. Not only did you overcome so many challenges, but you also rose to the top!
You have reason to celebrate … and I want you to celebrate. This is your moment.
But even in celebration, understand that the work does not end today or after graduation. Your future is now and your work has just begun.
As members of the Class of 2021, the class that helped lead us through this challenging year, you learned what it takes to persevere and excel. Like steel, you were forged in fire. You will always be seen as the fighters, the survivors, the winners.
You must take that strength and those lessons and build a strong future for yourselves and our community.
In addition to the lessons in strength, determination, and perseverance, I hope you learned kindness, compassion, and gratitude. Because while a pandemic may have driven us apart, we learned that we could only survive if we pulled together.
The eyes of the world are upon you, so take the banner you’ve earned. Raise it high. Make us proud.
Congratulations, scholars! God speed and Be Well.