By: Sarabeth Weszely, Senior Writer
June 24, 2021
Celebration is so important to the culture of IAL. When we began the 2020-21 school year last fall, while the pain of sending off our 2020 graduates without in-person celebration was fresh and the future was uncertain, we made it a point to keep end-of-year celebrations a priority. Despite the many setbacks COVID-19 presented, we knew our students would have much to celebrate by the end of the year, confident in their abilities to overcome obstacles, learn, and lead with integrity. Our end-of-year dreams became a reality this month in more ways than one as we honored our students’ resilience with in-person graduation ceremonies, award ceremonies, picnics, parent gatherings, and even a block party.
We dedicated the block party to our graduating seniors as a way of commemorating Senior Decision Day. Making decisions about college and career is so important and we wanted this to be the thing we celebrated along with their accomplishments. Students arrived in the afternoon to a live DJ, basketball hoops, tie dye stations, and an outdoor film studio where they could be recorded announcing their post-graduate decisions. Students and staff helped themselves to unlimited food and drink from food truck caterers and enjoyed a special performance from our cheerleading team. The party was a breath of fresh air for students and staff alike, and it was well-deserved by our graduates.
Although the block party was limited to seniors, we were sure to celebrate our rising high schoolers too as they prepared to graduate middle school. At a special awards ceremony early in the month, outstanding students received academic awards from their teachers, voted on student-created awards for their peers, and even gave teachers some awards of their own! Following the awards ceremony, eighth grade students gathered in our gym for food, games, a photobooth, and more. The students partied themselves out until the school day was over, and we all went home feeling happy and full. On June 11, we officially sent them off with our annual Stepping Up Ceremony in our gym.
Members of our Family Council were honored with a bowling night and remote awards ceremony, after which they were able to pick up gifts and certificates from our Family Room as a thank you for their generous leadership over this past year. Senior parents gathered in person to hear from our Alumni Coordinators about post-graduation support, and we also had many family members join us for Hike the Heights, an annual event that promotes health and access to safe parks in our neighborhood.
Most-anticipated of all our year-end events was Senior Graduation, which we hosted on June 23 at The College of Mount Saint Vincent. This graduating class was our largest yet over the past four years, despite the unprecedented challenges they had to overcome to make it to this point. Over twenty of our seniors graduated as members of the National Honors Society. The class is cumulatively attending over twenty-five different colleges and universities in the fall, and they have been awarded approximately $3,000,000 in scholarships collectively.
We started the ceremony by honoring the many essential workers who were present and sharing a moment of silence for lost ones we wish could have joined us for this momentous celebration. In addition to Principal Hackett, we then heard from three student speakers, each of whom represented their class excellently.
Jassani Ruiz, who was elected by her peers to speak at graduation because of her unanimous support for others, started by thanking her mother:
“My mom taught me that kindness and support are the best gifts you can ever give, and she has done the impossible for my brothers and I. Every single one of us has struggled and needed some kind of support. Being that support for someone gives them the confidence they need to persevere, knowing they are not alone. We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”
Jassani was followed by Salutatorian Edwin Pena, who also began his speech with gratitude for his family and teachers. He reflected on the unique challenges his class had faced:
“All of these things made our class unique from any other class that came before us. Our class will not be remembered for the grades, the individual or group successes, the popularity, or even who got into the best universities. Then what will we be remembered by? Our graduating class will be remembered for continuing to pave the path to success for future classes to come.”
Valedictorian Lorenny Sanchez Cabrera gave the final student address, and we will leave you with her words:
“We have been taught since each of us stepped into IAL that we must have a voice, learn how to use it, and be the agents of change that the world needs. Our generation has been thrust into issues we certainly weren’t prepared for, yet we have spoken up, advocating for change to make our world a more accepting place. IAL taught us how to advocate for ourselves and now we know how to advocate on a larger scale. We, the Class of 2021, have endured fear on so many levels, yet we are sitting here as examples of the resiliency and determination IAL always expected from us. Let’s continue to always push ourselves and others to reach our fullest potential.”