Mount Vernon — When it comes to the City of Mount Vernon headlines are quick to point out how taxes are too high, highlight the infighting among elected officials in City Hall and exhaustedly spotlight the senseless gun violence, some are even saying Mount Vernon has a dark cloud over it on social media. The critique from residents is the media never discusses the great things happening in Mount Vernon. Well we have three short stories that we hope helps change the narrative. Black Westchester would like to highlight and congratulated all the Seniors that have prevailed through a historic year turned upside down by COVID-19 and all the aforementioned.
Mount Vernon High School Graduation Marks Occasion ‘Like No Other’
Seniors of The Mount Vernon High School graduated Friday, June 25, in a ceremony that Principal Dr. Ronald Gonzalez called “an occasion like no other to close a time like no other, for students like no other.” The 243 seniors had prevailed through a historic year turned upside down by COVID-19.
“Your journey has been interrupted by some of the most extraordinary circumstances ever faced by school age children in the modern era,” Dr. Gonzalez told the sea of burgundy-robed graduates on the high school’s football field. “And like the resilient, spirited children we always knew you to be, you demanded greatness.”
Speakers at the 143rd commencement exercise commended the seniors for their resilience and for what they were able to learn from the hardship the pandemic brought to Mount Vernon, schools across the country, and the world.
“We are the ones who think, the ones who act and the ones who will shape the future,” salutatorian John Alex said. “The people I see before me are the next scientists, the presidents, the astronauts, and the proud business owners of the world.”
The students did more than merely make it through. They met with remarkable success.
“We have seen the most impressive list of college acceptances we have seen in decades,” said Superintendent Dr. Kenneth R. Hamilton. “So that provides evidence that the work is indeed making sense and taking root.”
“I know the future is in really good hands as you move forward,” said Board of Education President Darcy Miller.
Valedictorian Gabrielle Sylvester told her classmates not to fear failures while pursuing their dreams and goals. “Fall forward,” she said. “Every failure is one step closer to success.”
Sylvester received another accolade during the ceremony when Dr. Gonzalez bestowed upon her the Mount Vernon Administrative Leadership Award. It was one of several honors announced. Dr. Hamilton named students Sarah Levine and D’Asia Latoya Jackson as the recipients of the Dr. Kenneth R. Hamilton Award, which goes to the most improved students. New York State Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow gave a $2,000 Community Leadership Award to Yessica Vasquez.
Luisa Fuentes, managing attorney with the Morris County Family Justice Center, delivered the keynote address, encouraging students to make their voices heard. “Remind the powers that be that they work for you,” she said. “Never forget the power that you have and utilize it.”
Mount Vernon’s Denzel Washington School of the Arts Graduates First Class with 100% Graduation Rate
The first class of the Denzel Washington School of the Arts graduated Thursday, June 24, with a 100% graduation rate in a ceremony that included video messages from two special guests – Tony Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad and the school’s very namesake.
“I’m proud of you, as I know your parents are,” said Denzel Washington, the Oscar-winning actor, director and producer from a screen in the school’s auditorium. He encouraged them to work hard for their dreams, and quipped: “If you’re an actor or a director, I guess I’ll see you at work.”
The auditorium that held the graduation is named for Rashad, who wished the graduates “the very best that life has to offer as you continue your journey in life.”
The ceremony was filled with the arts, including a slide show of paintings and drawings, a poem, a lyrical monologue, a piano performance, a school choir performance of “I Know Where I’ve Been” and more. The school, with students in grades 6 through 12, cultivates the arts, but teaches students headed for a world of different vocations.
“They will be majoring in everything you can think of,” said Principal Dr. Evelyn Collins in her address. “Some will major in theater, some will major in dance, the visual arts or music. But some will major in biochemistry, some will major in the humanities, some in hospitality.”
Students wore robes of blue or yellow (each graduate’s choice). It was the first-ever graduation for the school that began in 2015 as a summer bridge program at Grimes Elementary School. It opened as a full school-year program that fall at Benjamin Turner Middle School for 60 sixth- and seventh-grade students, then expanded one grade each year.
“I remember the joy that came with finally making it to our own school and having our own auditorium after four whole years of showcasing talent,” salutatorian Eryn Asante-Wiredu said in her address.
The shared experience drew them closer.
“We have a bond that we have created unlike any other school,” said Class President Emmanuella Dessande.
Tommy Guest played a piano version of “House of the Rising Sun.” Just 12 days after being shot in the leg in an early morning attack, he attended his graduation and said the school has the power to bring about change for the good.
Guest’s younger cousin broke a leg fleeing the shooting. Calling himself lucky, Guest took time “to remember young members of Mount Vernon who lost their lives too early, whether it has been to violence or to other unfortunate causes, most of whom I went to school with and grew up with and had my own personal experiences with.”
In the end, the entire class of 43 students graduated in the ceremony.
“That did not happen by accident,” said Superintendent Dr. Kenneth R. Hamilton. “That’s a result of your fortitude, your commitment, your dedication and the extraordinary work and commitment of the dedicated staff members here in this building.”
The superintendent bestowed the Dr. Kenneth R. Hamilton Award, which is given to a student who has demonstrated the most improvement, to Mariah Grant.
On the verge of becoming alumni, the graduates were urged to continue applying their determination to succeed.
“Be the first in line; be in the game,” Board of Education President Darcy Miller told them. “You can be anything you want to be. If a door is closed, break it down. Ask for what you want and demand what you deserve. That’s your right.”
Valedictorian Alexandra Courtney told them: “The determination you hold will carry you far. You have what it takes to prosper, to thrive. We all do. We just need to take those first few steps, find a steady pace and when you have it, don’t stop. Don’t stop running after your goal until you reach that finish line. Let no one stop you. Not even yourself.”
Mt. Vernon STEAM Academy Graduates its 1st Class
As the seniors of Mount Vernon STEAM Academy graduated on Monday, June 21, they also reached a milestone for the District. The 100 members of the Class of 2021 were the first to become alumni of their school, and they did so amid praise, reflection and a song from Superintendent Dr. Kenneth R. Hamilton.
“Today we are standing in history as the first entering class, the first graduating class and the first to be educated through a pandemic,” class President Nyasia Bassaragh told her fellow graduates, all dressed in blue robes. “We made it, and we made room for those up next to do the same.”
The school focusing on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) opened in September 2018 as part the Mount Vernon City School District’s 2016 bond intended to facilitate the district’s 20/20 Vision. The Class of 2021 entered the STEAM Academy in 10th grade.
“Five years ago, this high school was a dream,” Board of Education President Darcy Miller said in her address. “Now, because of hard work on the part of many people, because of perseverance, it has become a reality. I’m so proud of all of you.”
Dr. Hamilton praised the class for, among other things, speaking up for what they wanted – including the in-person graduation ceremony, which was held outdoors on the school’s field. “You made sure that I heard you and I want to commend you for using your voice,” he said. “There is no greater power than the power of your voice.”
Seniors had also emailed him asking him to sing. And he did. Taking a cue from a video they had sent of a North Carolina school principal singing to his students, Dr. Hamilton ended his address with his a cappella rendition of the Whitney Houston hit “I Will Always Love You.”
“I am so proud of you,” Principal Sharon Bradley said. “I know that you are the best and that we’re going to hear of even more coming from you in the future.”
Valedictorian Efua “Maame” Forson, in her address, recalled beginning her high school career at Nellie Thornton High School, then coming to the STEAM Academy, where “my support system grew even larger. Think of the memories, experiences, conversations you had with the person next to you because even if you may never speak to them again, they are now part of you,” she said. “We’ll look back on our high school days and be glad that we made it through the times of masks, social distances, and protests.”
She encouraged her fellow graduates to always find someone to trust to help through the hard times. “No matter how strong you are by yourself, every Captain America needs a Falcon, every Iron Man needs a War Machine, every Batman needs a Robin,” she said.
Salutatorian Martinez Jean Claude marveled at how the students – who are now seniors – had initially come to the STEAM Academy from different schools when it first opened and have now emerged as one class:
“Here, we had great accomplishments, from published student authors to students performing on the Broadway stage to even having a student-athlete who received a full ride to Xavier University,” he said. Then, referring to Forson, he said; “This school has even fostered the first black woman from Mount Vernon to attend Harvard on a full ride!”
Jean Claude, who will attend Emory University in the fall, thanked his parents, friends and faculty for their support. He closed his remarks with a bit of advice: “Despite the troubles that are going to come your way, remember you only get one life, so never have any regrets, live your life the way you want to, fight for your dreams, go on adventures, have fun, live each day as if it was your last. But remember one thing – we did it! Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2021!”
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be
Black Westchester would like to congratulate all the 2021 Seniors, it was our pleasure to share this story because it shows despite what the media may portray, our future is in good hands. To the graduates, Go on and do great things and come back and bring what you learned back home and be the inspiration for the next generation!!!