ALEXANDRIA, VA–After two days of torrential downpours left the ceremony start time up in the air, the clouds parted just in time for the T.C. Williams class of 2021 to graduate Saturday morning as originally planned, becoming the last students to do so before the school changes its name to Alexandria City – effective July 1.
Coincidentally though, this bit of drama was strikingly reminiscent of the 888 graduates’ unusual high school career where nothing went as planned, requiring students and faculty alike to constantly adapt in unprecedented times. But on Saturday, as students marched the stage to gleefully receive their long-awaited diplomas, it seemed like the storms were beginning to pass.
Although the ceremony hinted at a return to normalcy, participants were still required to wear masks, and all seats were spread three feet apart in accordance with the Alexandria Health Department. It served as yet another reminder of the hardships the graduates had to face as a result of the Covid Pandemic, and as articulated by the numerous commencement speeches, no one will forget the adversity these students had to overcome.
As Principal Peter Balas stated in his address, “Each class has a unique personality”, and at the center of the Class of 2021’s seemed to be a single trait: resilience.
Another speaker, student Fina Osei- Owusu, the President of the Black Student Union, touched on this in her remarks. “Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts, the will to persevere, this strength to stand up when you fall, and the application of the wisdom and knowledge that you pick up along the way.” Few know this better than the class of 2021, who faced these tribulations at such a young age.
Additionally, throughout the speeches, another quality came out: that the Class of 2021 were advocates of equality and social justice, having a central role in changing the name of the school. As Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. said in his address, “They wanted change. They called it, they challenged it, and today, we are proud to say that their voices were heard loud and clear.”
Next, the presentation of diplomas commenced. Students journeyed up the stage, closing out one era of their lives, and returning to their seats with the skills needed to venture down life’s endless possibilities in the next one.
Sadia Annona, a member of the graduating class, plans to attend NOVA for two years and then transfer to UVA, where she would like to study international relations. “There’s something more that differentiates us from other classes,” Sadia said, “We survived a pandemic, virtual learning, we were kinda like the beta testers for new initiatives.” She’s ready for whatever comes her way.
Fellow graduate Lorraine Johnson, who plans to attend the University of Texas-Austin, is grateful for what T.C. Williams had to offer. Early in her high school career, she decided to join a Media and TV productions class and fell in love with it. Her dream job is to be involved with the creative aspect of TV commercials.
Normally, commencement would be held inside at George Mason, but Johnson doesn’t care. “I love the outdoor setting,” she says, “This feels like a cookout, a community.” The Class of 2021 is continuing to adapt, right up into graduation. They remain optimistic and seem to be making the best of these unexpected circumstances. Congratulations to the Class of 2021!