Stonewall Jackson Graduation Emphasizes Strength Through Diversity

| June 13, 2014 | 0 Comments | Education

Stonewall Jackson High School candidates for graduation parade throughout the audience of Jiffy Lube Live at the start of their graduation ceremony.

Stonewall Jackson High School (SJHS) in Manassas graduated its class of 2014 Wednesday evening at Jiffy Lube Live amphitheatre in a ceremony that emphasized strength through diversity and the importance of finding your own voice.

For students and faculty, the fact that SJHS has often been discounted was on everyone’s mind, but they made sure the community understood they were proud that their blood ran “maroon, gold and white.”

Principal Richard Nichols told the class of 2014, family and friends that this is his 20th year at Stonewall Jackson and, as times change, he continues to be impressed by the students.

He boasted that the class was graduating students of 40 different nationalities, who spoke 40 different languages, and he asked that graduates always remember to appreciate that kind of diversity.

“Diversity is our strength and our future,” he told graduates.

Student speakers shared how Stonewall Jackson’s diverse community helped shape the people they have become.

In her graduation speech, Stonewall Jackson Class President Magdalene Kwakye accounted her personal journey to find pride in herself. As a 2nd grader in Gainesville, she was first told she was “different” by a classmate, who pointed out she was “black” and her white class mates were “smarter and richer.”

Before then, Kwakye said she never thought about race or class, but now it began to define her. Even her teacher seemed to reinforce it by having the class choose her to replace her name, Magdalene with one that was more familiar to her classmates.

From then on, Kwakye lost much confidence and hoped to become invisible. To better fit in with her peers, she changed her sneakers, hair, taste in music and everything that once defined her.

Stonewall candidates for graduation get a chance to say hello to parents and friends in the audience.

“I didn’t want to be different and I didn’t want to be black,” she said. “I let them take it away from me: the joy of my culture and traditions. Self-hatred lasted for a long time, but then I came to Stonewall Jackson High School,” she said.

At Stonewall, Magdalene was seen as an individual again. From the experience of losing her self-worth and discovering it again, she learned a valuable lesson: to value her self.

“Don’t let them take it,” she told the graduating class. “Don’t hold back. Don’t go small. Don’t let the world steal your thunder.”

She reminded her classmates of the famous quote by Marianne Williamson that said, “our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is we are powerful beyond measure.”

Kwakye teared up when she told her fellow classmates how proud that she is to be their president, their friend and their sister.

Along with addressing how race and class often shapes identity, the graduation speakers offered sage advise that the graduates could take with them into the world.

Class Valedictorian Querida DeLaStukes told her fellow classmates that they live in an uncertain world. Knowing this, they should strive to make a difference and “find joy in everything.”

She said her cousin emailed her, giving her advice upon being accepted into Stanford University. She told her that “our paths are all unique.” Although it would be easier if there were signposts for everyone to follow, everyone will have to forge their own path in the “scary adult world.”

She said for those arriving at college, to believe in destiny and imagine that “each and every one of those buildings was erected for your presence,” and that every star “is burning for you.”

Salutatorian Nethan Reddy announced that “Stonewall Jackson is undoubtedly the best school in the county,” because of the community. From academics to athletics, Reddy noted that Raiders excel.

He praised his classmates who “fought against any negative portrayal” of Stonewall Jackson and proved they are all winners who take pride in representing maroon, gold and white.

He told people not to live someone else’s life but pursue their own dreams, referencing the life lesson of author J.K. Rowling whose parents once said her creativity was “quirky” but it would never pay the bills.

Reddy also urged his peers to rebound from their failure, saying, “It’s importing to keep screwing up. One time” he explained it might lead you “to fulfill your dreams.”

Student Activity Leadership Council President Julia Layne Mandros shared with her fellow graduates some of the wisdom she gained during her time in high school.

Members of the class of 2014 are excited to be attending their graduation ceremony.

She said the positive influences her teachers and coaches have had on her convinced her that it really does “take a village to raise a child.”

She advised her peers to love their “future self.” At the same time, take stock of what they know, but realize “you don’t know enough.”

She recommended that in their new endeavors they “give people a chance” because people will always surprise you just as they eventually learned to appreciate the teachers they first disliked because they pushed them to give their best.

“High school will be the last place that a lot of these kids will get a pep talk from people who really want them to succeed,” she overheard a Stonewall staff member say.

In response, Mandros advised Stonewall graduates to always believe in themselves.

Guests of honor at the graduation were School Board Chairman Milt Johns, Brentsville School Board member Gil Trenum, Gainesville School Board member Alyson Satterwhite, Associate Superintendent for Eastern Elementary Schools Rita Everett Goss and Associate Superintendent for Finance and Support Services David Cline.

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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