“The only future worth saving is the one you decide to fight for today.”
The message was loud and clear from South Philly native Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter of the music band “The Roots” as he addressed more than 100 Universal Audenried Charter High School students who were set to graduate on Friday night via Zoom.
“You and your generation are the generation most primed to truly advance this world,” Trotter said. “To make and demand progressive development based on what you know in your hearts this world needs and needs more of.”
As keynote speaker of Audenried’s ninth commencement, Trotter spoke openly and honestly about his upbringing in South Philly. He urged the graduating class to tell their own story through their actions.
“My knees are aching, I got a bad back and my voice is getting hoarse, so I’m leaning on your generation to be the change. You’re all 17 and 18 and whether you want the responsibility or not, you got a whole bunch of people younger than you and even more that are older than you that need the world to hear your voice. We’re waiting for you to tell your story and contribute to the fabric of the universe and to shift it.”
The Class of 2020 is off to a good start. Audenried’s senior class racked up nearly $700,000 in academic scholarships, and 80 percent of the more than 100 graduates will continue their education in either two- or four-year colleges or universities. They reached that goal under unprecedented circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced them out of classrooms and into the world of virtual learning.
“We have been through so much in these past few months, and I know all of us are having mixed emotions,” said valedictorian Joseph Le, who will attend Temple University in the fall. “This is the time to celebrate and be proud of our accomplishment.”
The faculty certainly recognized the extra hardships that were placed on the students due to the pandemic. Students were able to pick up diplomas at the school a week prior to commencement and had photos taken on site.
“This will always be a special class considering how the closure of the school building due to COVID-19 impacted their school year,” Audenried principal Blanchard Diavua said. “The seniors had the highest attendance in our virtual school program and completed and presented their senior projects to our community and corporate partners. It has been an honor to serve as their principal, and they will truly be missed.”
Salutatorian Foday Keita, who will attend Howard University, looked back on his four years at Audenried fondly.
“High school has changed all of us,” Keita said. “Honestly, this school has taught us a lot about being a person and a young adult. We went from being goofy and silly, but funny ninth-graders, to mature and sophisticated, and still funny 12th-graders. This long journey not only prepared us for the next level, but prepared us for the next chapter of our lives.”
The virtual ceremony included remarks by civil rights leader, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who reminded the seniors “not to allow folks to have their knee on their necks” as the commencement took place on Juneteenth.
“How fitting that today’s graduation was held on Juneteenth, the day of liberation for black people – historical,” said Kenny Gamble, founder and chairman of Universal Companies. “The 2020 class made history on many fronts, adjusting to learning in a virtual environment and excelling academically despite a pandemic. I am proud of our future leaders and extend congratulations to the 2020 senior class of Universal Audenried. I applaud the graduates, parents/guardians, teachers, staff and administrators of Universal Audenried for doing a fine job. Education is truly the passport to our young people’s future.”