Flint, MI— Perhaps no other graduating class in U.S. has endured more challenges, made more sacrifices, and faced more unknowns than the class of 2021. 

Despite it all, 59 Flint Community Schools seniors gathered for the first time in over a year, walked across the stage, and received their diplomas Wednesday evening. 

Parents and loved ones cheered from the bleachers of Southwestern Academy’s gymnasium. A father shouted, “I’ve got two of them!” Lost in excitement, he leaped from his seat and ran to high-five his child. Security ushered him back to the bleachers. 

It was this kind of energy that carried the evening. Because while all graduations are special, this year’s launched a more “resilient” adult into the world, Assistant Superintendent Kevelin Jones said. 

“These babies are going to be remembered forever. Not only have they been a part of a water crisis, but they’ve been a part of a pandemic. The kids of Flint are resilient,” Jones said. 

Epidemiologist Jasmine Hall, a Southwestern alum and Harvard graduate, delivered the keynote speech. 

“It’s the journey for me,” she said, and left the students with some advice. “I’ll leave you with these three lessons that were so meaningful to me on my journey: asking the right person for help, keeping uplifting and supportive people around you, and never give up. Let your story, your light, be that torch that shines for future generations,” Hall said. 

Valedictorian Alejandra Gonzalez, who plans to attend the University of Michigan and study psychology in the fall, offered a few remarks.

“I’ve learned a lot from Southwestern and not just from the course material, but also from all of you. … You are a group of intelligent individuals who are always finding creative ways to have fun and bring joy into the dull areas of life around you. You all exhibit loyalty to one another and demand to be respected. And for all of those things, and many more, I am proud to have you all as my peers,” Gonzalez said. 

FCS Board of Education President Carol McIntosh, Superintendent Anita Steward and Principal of Accelerated Learning Academy Kelly Fields also gave students words of encouragement. 

“You are two steps closer to receiving your diploma. A diploma that you can use to take you places. A diploma that will be the key to unlocking many doors. A diploma that will open up a world of possibilities. So, I leave you with the question: what will you set your mind to next?” Steward said. 

Seniors announced their future plans during a virtual Decision Day event on May 26, but for many the graduation ceremony made it real.

“It feels great. Especially during this year of online school. It was hard,” Travis Hairston said, adding that he missed out on a lot of traditional senior experiences. 

“I missed out on my football season. Prom. Just being in school for the senior year. Missed a lot of senior memories,” he said. Hairston plans to attend Mott Community College in the fall, but is unsure of what he wants to study. 

Ja’Tayvia Cole said she doesn’t plan to go to college right away. Instead, she wants to work towards her dream of becoming a cosmetologist.

“First I just want to get a job and invest in myself. Then go to school for two years for cosmetology and start my own business,” Cole said. 

The evening ended with lots of hugs, laughs, and many proud parents and teachers.

“This has probably been one of the most challenging years of my educational career in all honesty, and I don’t think that I’ve ever been prouder to see kids finish than this year,” Fields said. “It is undeniable that their stars will be cosmic.”

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Carmen Nesbitt

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...