Boston public school seniors shared messages of hope Saturday evening during the city’s first virtual graduation ceremony.
The prerecorded event was streamed in English and Spanish on WCVB Channel 5 and online and hosted by Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. Former US secretary of education John King Jr. addressed the approximately 3,000 graduates as the keynote speaker.
The ceremony, called "BPS Strong: A Salute to the Class of 2020,” began with valedictorians’ video messages from all 36 upper-level schools. Photos of their fellow students enjoying field trips, sports, and extra-curricular activities accompanied their messages of congratulations.
“Today I am proud to say that my graduating class is filled with warriors who are strong and determined to succeed regardless of the situations,” said Saeina Charles, of TechBoston Academ,.
“It may feel unreal for a while, because we’re literally graduating electronically, at home,” Adam Cusolito, of the Mary Lyon Pilot High School, said. “But this is real, I assure you.”
Walsh thanked the members of the class of 2020 for their resilience, reminding them that no class in the past 100 years of American history has graduated during a global pandemic.
“The last class that knew what it was like, was the class of 1918,” he said. “They persevered during the Great Depression, through World War II, through some of the most pivotal moments in American history. ... They went on to become what we now call the Greatest Generation.”
Walsh acknowledged the many challenges facing the new graduates, including systemic racism and climate change. He thanked them for their activism and for giving him hope for the future as photos of their high school days continued to flash across the screen.
“You are living through history, are are being forged by hard times, and you are already pushing us forward in countless ways," he said. "You deserve our recognition, love, and support.”
Casselius, too, had words of praise for the students, noting their willingness to meet enormous challenges.
“This world will always remember the spring of 2020, and the group of resilient, intelligent, and confident young people who graduated into a new normal,” she said.
Michael Loconto, Boston School Committee chairman, encouraged graduates to remain connected to Boston.
“Teach, volunteer, and use your talents,” he said. “That’s how Boston grows as a city, now and for our future.”
The event then moved into a series of messages from local celebrities. Kiss 108′s Matt Siegel of “Matty in the Morning” told seniors that this virus will one day be a distant memory.
“I know you’re bummed out,” he said. “You didn’t get a chance to have a ‘normal’ graduation. But you know what? I think back to my high school graduation—I kind of think I dozed off.”
Students also heard from Diane Guerrero, a BPS alumna and actress known for her role in “Orange Is the New Black,” and several members of the region’s four biggest sports teams. Enes Kanter of the Celtics, Ron Roenicke and Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Red Sox, Devin and Jason McCourty of the Patriots, and Zdeno Chara of the Bruins took turns congratulating the seniors.
“The future is in your hands and we cannot wait to see you change the world,” Kanter said.
King began his speech near the end of the ceremony, sharing his own history growing up in New York City. After losing both of his parents by age 12, King was kicked out of school. It was caring members of his school’s staff that reminded him that his past did not have to shape his future, he said.
“And that’s the message that I’d like to leave you with today,” he said. “Even when things don’t go as planned, even in the midst of a global pandemic, you get to decide how you respond.”
The presentation ended with another round of footage from the BPS valedictorians. Each shared messages of inspiration, announced their hopes for the future, and thanked their caretakers, teachers, and fellow classmates.
“It is vital to remember what this pandemic has not taken from us,” said Alejandra Estrada of Fenway High School. “It has not diminished our hard work, our friendships, or our memories.”
Chamely Flores, of the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, expressed her excitement for life after graduation in American Sign Language.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys do in the future,” she said.