The 107 members of the Universal Audenried Charter School Class of 2020 celebrated their commencement via video conference on Friday.
The students have not had class, clubs or other gatherings in person since schools closed in March in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. And the last three weeks of their school year have been filled with protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and police brutality across the U.S.
“I know we’re ending the school year with mixed emotions, but this is time to celebrate and be proud of our accomplishments,” valedictorian Joseph Le, who’s going to Temple University in the fall, said in his speech.
“During the past four years, we’ve made memories that we can look back on,” he added. “All of those experiences have shaped us into who we are today.”
Keynote speaker Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, the Grammy-winning emcee for The Roots, told the class in a pre-recorded video, “The decisions you make today will not only open up new possibilities for tomorrow, but it will make your life better, bigger and more courageous.”
A Philadelphia native, Black Thought is a co-founder of The Roots alongside drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. Black Thought is widely lauded for his lyrics, creativity and live performances.
In his 20-minute speech during the virtual ceremony, Black Thought mentioned Trayvon Martin, Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai — all young people who have sparked social movements.
“The fight for justice has woken millions of young people around the world,” Black Thought said. “Your age, youth, hope and perspective is needed in these movements. We need you to save us. The only future we’re saving is the one that you decide to fight for today.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton gave remarks that built on Black Thought’s, and encouraged the graduates to “stand up for what [they] believe in.”
“Demand an even playing field in your education, profession and life,” the civil rights leader said in a pre-recorded video. “Don’t allow people to have their knee on your neck.
“Take the bitter with the sweet, but don’t allow defeat,” he added. “Stand up and don’t lay down. Remember, you’re a graduate, so keep graduating throughout life.”
Black Thought also told the graduates that the experience of learning remotely during the pandemic “could be a part of your future.”
“Imagine a world where you can report to a job remotely from any location you chose — where you can make the decision to go into an office to work or work from an environment you control,” he said. “Imagine being able to build a team remotely to connect with clients from around the globe. Use what you learned during this time to your advantage.”
The Class of 2020 is the ninth class to graduate from Universal Audenried since the school has been under the management of Universal Companies. More than 80% of the graduates are headed to two- or four-year colleges and universities, and they received a combined total of $700,000 in scholarships.
Salutatorian Foday Keita received over $112,000 in scholarships and is headed to Howard University in the fall.
During his speech, he told his fellow classmates “to never give up and keep grinding.”
“No matter how many people try to bring you down or try to place a certain stereotype on you, keep grinding and rise above it,” Foday said. “We’re the future and we can do anything we put our minds to.”