Denzel Washington School of the Arts graduates 59 students from Class of 2024


MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. (June 21, 2024) —  Students turned their tassels, walked across the stage and officially became graduates of Denzel Washington School of the Arts on Friday, June 21, 2024. 59 students graduated from the Class of 2024. The commencement ceremony was held in the Phylicia Rashad Auditorium at DWSA.

The ceremony began with the “Pledge of Allegiance,” the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” recited by Class of 2024 graduating seniors Rojae Denton, Simone Smith and Sheridan Hinds. Principal Andrea Thomas then greeted the graduates and families in attendance.

“You came to us with raw talent and a passion for the arts,” said Ms. Thomas. “Over the years, we have seen you grow, not just in your artistic abilities, but also in your understanding of the world around you, your academic prowess and your ability to persevere through adversity. You have learned to use your art to express your thoughts, your feelings, and your perspectives.”

Acting Superintendent Dr. K. Veronica Smith congratulated the graduates and remarked on their tenacity, overcoming everything that came their way. She recalled working on her dissertation, and the students in foster care who showed such resiliency and still graduated; she saw that same quality in the students in this graduating class.

“I hope as you leave here today and move into the next stage of your life that you stay true to yourself and always stand up for what you believe in,” said Dr. Smith. “Remember those moments and people who have helped shape your character as you appreciate all that you have become. Be proud of all that you have conquered to get to this monumental moment in your life.”

Board of Education President Lorna Kirwan congratulated the graduates and thanked parents, teachers and administration on behalf of the Board of Education for working together to guide these students toward graduation.

“The world beyond these walls is full of opportunities and rewarding challenges for all of you,” said President Kirwan. “It is a world that needs your talents, your passion, and your commitment to making a difference. You will be stepping into a world that is rapidly changing. Embrace the changes with open minds and courageous hearts.”

The Mayor of the City of Mount Vernon, Shawyn Patterson-Howard, spoke to the graduates about staying true to their characters as they enter this new and exciting phase of their life.

“You are transitioning from high school to the next phase of your life today,” she said. “I want you to know that it is more than a notion as your life expands. Whether it’s college, military, whether you’re taking a gap year to figure it all out, if you’re going to vocational school; be prepared for the next level.

Graduating senior Nigel Diggs read an original poem to the audience titled “Completion.” The Senior Band and Orchestra then performed “Good  Days” by SZA. Salutatorian Brielle Henderson had a lighthearted message in her speech for her fellow graduates but also gave them meaningful advice throughout.

“Remember that words are magic, remember that your experience is valid, remember that you are loved, remember that you belong,” said Brielle. “Remember that you’re whole, remember that you’re extraordinarily ordinary, remember that you’re ordinarily extraordinary, remember that there’s another perspective, remember to stay focused, remember not to take things too seriously.”

Class President and Valedictorian Chanel Baxter thanked her teachers and classmates in student government for making the senior year so special. She discussed the trials they have faced thus far, and the trials and joys they will face in the future as they go into adulthood. 

“As we plan to go off and start lives of our own, I implore you to plan for the unexpected,” said Chenel. “Plan for 10-page papers in MLA format forgotten about until an hour before their due date. Plan for finding joy and happiness in the shared anxiety and panic that arise with the coming of midterms with the friends you’ll go on to meet beyond the confines of the City of Mount Vernon.”

Billy “Mr. Apollo” Mitchell then took the stage for his keynote speech. Mr. Mitchell is the director of tours, in-house historian and ambassador at The World Famous Apollo Theater in Harlem.

“Let me tell you something, there’s something about us from Mount Vernon, that when we go out there into the world, we are better than everybody,” said Mr. Mitchell. “It’s just the truth. There’s something about us, because we’re only four square miles. I came to see a production that you guys did the other day when Denzel was here. I was so impressed with what I saw. There’s so much talent in Mount Vernon.” 

A video congratulations from Denzel Washinton, congratulating the seniors, and a montage of the senior class played. 

Dr. Smith and DWSA administration proclaimed the 59 students as graduates of the Class of 2024 to the Board of Education, and students cheered, received their diplomas and celebrated their achievement. 

AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief and co-owner of Black Westchester, Host & Producer of the People Before Politics Radio Show, An Author, Journalism Fellow (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism), Rap Artist - one third of the legendary underground rap group JVC FORCE known for the single Strong Island, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian, Documentarian, Activist, Criminal Justice Advocate and Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale,,, Rolling Out Newspaper, Daily Challenge Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine, Word Up! Magazine, On The Go Magazine and several others.


  1. Wonderful! we expect great things from these students! God bless their futures with His favor

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