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Denzel Washington School of the Arts Graduates First Class with 100% Graduation Rate - June 24, 2021

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.”

Valedictorian Alexandra Courtney

Salutatorian Eryn Asante-Wiredu

CLICK THIS LINK – for the entire Denzel Washinton School of Arts Graduation photo gallery the is enabled for picture download.

GRADUATION CEREMONY from YouTube - June 24, 2021