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Graduates of Mount Vernon’s Denzel Washington School of the Arts Celebrate Commencement

Student walk down aisel

The second class of the Denzel Washington School of the Arts graduated Wednesday, June 22, in the school’s Phylicia Rashad Auditorium. The ceremony for the 54 students included speeches by the school principal, district superintendent, a board trustee, and the mayor, as well as the Class of 2022 president, valedictorian and salutatorian, among other dignitaries.

“They are very bright kids. Very bright kids. They were able to take honors classes and advanced placement classes. They were even able to take classes in colleges, all while holding it down and maintaining 85, 90, 95, 100 GPAs,” said DWSA Principal Dr. Evelyn Collins in her address. “So, that’s why we’re proud of them. It will be really sad for all of us when they leave because we have had them for so long. So, it starts to feel like part of your family is leaving home.”

The school, with students in grades 6 through 12, cultivates the arts, including dance, music, and visual arts. This year was the school’s second graduation. The program initially began in 2015 as a summer bridge program at Grimes Elementary School. It opened as a full-year program at the start of the 2015-2016 academic year for sixth and seventh grade students at Benjamin Turner Middle School. The program continued to expand one grade each year, and enrollment is now open to all students in junior and senior high school.

“Our graduates are the greatest demonstrations of strength, resilience, and dedication. At a young age, they have identified their love for the arts and used our school’s programs to hone their skills,” said Acting Superintendent Dr. Waveline Bennett-Conroy. “Many of them will continue to foster a love for their craft while others will use their experiences as students to explore new disciplines. I look forward to seeing all that this class will accomplish in the years to come.”

“We are extremely proud to see all of our students wearing their colors of their caps and gowns,” Board Trustee Candice Sorenson said. “It has been a hard four years for all of you, especially with the pandemic.” She then asked the students to close their eyes and remember their teachers, the amazing things that they were taught, and how supportive their parents were. “The world is your oyster. You just have to go and get it. We’re very confident you will.”

salutatorian Olivia Anderson“I want to thank everyone who came out to celebrate this momentous accomplishment with their loved ones,” said salutatorian Olivia Anderson. “You all don’t understand how valuable your support means to us. Now, for my fellow classmates – we did it! The day we dreamt about since our senior year is finally here. Those all-nighters we pulled, those study sessions, those group FaceTimes, after-school rehearsals, Regents prep, and Quizlet flashcards finally paid off.”

Anderson was a dance major at the school. In the fall, she will begin a seven-year accelerated program at City College of New York’s Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Engineering at the CUNY School of Medicine, planning to emerge with both a bachelor of science and a doctor of medicine. She hopes to become an obstetrician.

“To our upcoming doctors, lawyers, actors, entrepreneurs, and everything else in-between, I hope for your success, happiness and triumph into our futures,” said Class President Shia-Anai Marshall. “We overcame all of our problems. We hold memories that we can look back on and share with others of our crazy high school years.”

Valedictorian Fatima Davila SenThe speeches culminated with valedictorian Fatima Davila Sen. “We’re no longer the same eighth-grade kids that were scared of the terror that is high school. But we are now seniors and we are scared of the terror that is college. One thing that eighth grade and 12th grade have in common is that they have new beginnings. Eighth grade is the beginning of growing up while 12th grade is the beginning of finding our individual paths.”

As a student at DWSA, Davila Sen studied band before switching to visual arts. In the fall, she will attend the City University of New York, exploring the humanities and liberal arts.