The Class of 2021: A Lesson in Finding Your Purpose

My heart is filled with so much pride when I think about the graduating class of 2021. Despite a global pandemic, these resilient scholars persevered and overcame unprecedented challenges, and now they are officially proud graduates of Atlanta Public Schools. They are ready to soar to the next chapter of their lives.

And, I am so pleased that we were able to safely host in-person commencements, and that our graduates were able to celebrate this major milestone and see their peers — in person!

During our graduation celebrations this week at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium, I implored our scholars to find their purpose. As commencement denotes, one era of a student’s life has come to an end as the rest of their lives are just beginning. And while many people spend a lifetime trying to figure out what their purpose is, those who do, find fulfillment, direction, drive, and peace.

This caused me to reflect on the significance of each of our schools’ namesakes, and how that indelible imprint serves as a road map in our scholars’ quest to find their purpose.

Drew Charter School

Drew Charter School opened in 2000 as Atlanta Public Schools’ first charter school. Consider the school’s namesake — Charles R. Drew — the renowned African-American surgeon who made breakthroughs in the transfusion and storage of blood. He changed longstanding misconceptions and biases about race and science.

His methods were revolutionary and he is the reason many lives are saved every single day. He also went on to educate a generation of black physicians at Howard University. I would argue that Charles R. Drew found his purpose.

KIPP Atlanta Collegiate

Consider the legacy of KIPP Atlanta Collegiate’s namesake – Henry McNeal Turner – an African-American minister who was elected as the first Southern bishop of the AME Church.

He was also a part of the “Original 33,” the first 33 African-American members of the Georgia General Assembly being among the first African- American state legislators in the United States. 

He represented my hometown of Macon and helped pave the pathway for black political leaders. I would argue that Henry McNeal Turner found his purpose. 

Benjamin E. Mays

Then there is Benjamin E. Mays, the renowned educator who taught and mentored many influential Atlanta leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Julian Bond and Maynard Jackson.

After nearly three decades as president of Morehouse College, he went on to preside over the Atlanta Board of Education from 1969 to 1978.

He too knew how important it is to find your purpose as he said, “ Every man and woman is born into the world to do something unique and something distinctive and if he or she does not do it, it will never be done.”

B.E.S.T. Academy/CSKYWLA

The B.E.S.T. Academy experience is designed to align with young men’s strengths and develop them into a community of learners who are globally competitive, transformational leaders.

I know these young men are already well on their way to finding their purpose.

And young women attending Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy only need to consider the legacy of their school’s namesake. Coretta Scott King created her own legacy in the movement to end racial injustice, and was clear in her purpose saying, “I am not a symbol, I am an activist” as she not only upheld but expanded Dr. King’s legacy after his death.

Douglass High School

Consider the legacy of Douglass High School. Frederick Douglass – a prominent abolitionist, author and orator – was born a slave, escaped at age 20, and went on to become a world-renowned anti-slavery activist. His abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, became the most influential paper published in its era.

He believed that education was crucial for improving one’s life and knew how important it is to find your purpose as he said, “Man’s greatness consists in his ability to do and the proper application of his powers to things needed to be done.”

Henry W. Grady High School

As the final graduating class of Grady High School, Grady scholars are already finding their purpose. Students were actively involved in the renaming process of the school. Spurred by student input, the newly named Midtown High School celebrates the rich diversity and thriving culture of Midtown Atlanta. They are leaving a legacy of change for their alma mater and the Midtown High School students to follow for generations to come. 

D.M. Therrell
Named after school leader and phone pioneer Daniel McLaughlin Therrell, Therrell’s namesake served as a school board member for 25 years and was instrumental in creating the current independent and elected Board structure. The school leaders, counselors, teachers, and mentors at Therrell continue to instill hope in our graduates by maximizing their potential in a rigorous, relevant and nurturing environment.

These scholars are prepared and well on their way to finding their purpose.

South Atlanta
And consider the South Atlanta mascot, the hornet. Its honeycomb, a hexagon, is the symbol of the heart and represents the sweetness of life found within our own hearts. These scholars are prepared to embark on a new journey of greatness. Their passions will certainly lead to purpose.

Maynard Jackson
Consider the legacy of Maynard H. Jackson, the first African American to run for and serve as mayor of a major southeastern city. He pursued excellence for our city and helped create an Atlanta that boasted the world’s busiest airport now named for him, increased opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses, hosted the Olympic Games and attracted new residents to what is now considered a world-class city.

Booker T. Washington
Consider Booker T. Washington. He was an educator, author, orator, and adviser to several presidents of the United States.

He said, “success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”

Our Washington scholars have the tools, talents and drive to overcome any obstacles in their way.

Carver STEAM and Carver Early College
George Washington Carver, the most prominent Black scientist of the early 20th century, said: “When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” When graduates find their purpose, this can lead them to do the uncommon…to live outside the box.

North Atlanta

Scholars at North Atlanta can take inspiration from their school mascot, the Warrior and this quote from 18th century Japanese writer and philosophist Chozan Shissai: “A warrior must only take care that his spirit is never broken.”

These mighty warriors are ready to conquer their purpose and ascend to higher heights!

My Wish For Our Scholars

What I wish for our scholars is that they walk into tomorrow with certainty, confidence, and clarity rooted in their education at Atlanta Public Schools … and rooted in the love and sense of belonging afforded them by all those around them.

May our scholars know that they can walk on knowing that they are equipped to boldly embrace the future, even one that may bring a pandemic or civil unrest.

I extend a huge congratulations and best wishes to the Class of 2021 on this monumental achievement. May our scholars be well, and may they find their purpose.

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