During virtual ceremony, speakers tell MCPS graduates: ‘This is your time’

During virtual ceremony, speakers tell MCPS graduates: ‘This is your time’

Taped comments came from chef, Olympic gold medalists, comedian

| Published:

Chef José Andrés speaks during the MCPS virtual graduation ceremony.

Screenshot from livestream

During Montgomery County Public Schools’ first-ever virtual graduation ceremony on Sunday night, a star-studded lineup of speakers congratulated thousands of students capping their high school careers and urged them to embrace challenges and uncertainty.

The timely messages — shared amid a pandemic that pushed the last two months of classes online and prevented traditional in-person ceremonies — came from Olympic gold medalists, comedians, political leaders and world-renowned chef José Andrés.

Andrés, the night’s keynote speaker, told graduates that it’s OK to be anxious and nervous about the future, but, when people ask “What did you do during the pandemic of 2020 and an uprising for racial justice?,” they can say, “I graduated high school.”

“Don’t let anyone or anything take away from your day of celebration of everything you have worked for,” Andrés, of Bethesda, said. “… Write your own recipe, find your own passion, and compassion and empathy. This is your time to do right. We need you today more than ever.”

Other highlights of the commencement were messages from Olympic gold medalists Helen Maroulis, Haley Skarupa and Dominique Dawes, all MCPS alumni. Comedian Lewis Black and former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Ben Jealous also spoke.

Black, a Springbrook High School graduate, told students they’ve “been screwed” having to skip in-person graduations, proms and senior celebrations.

“You’ve been screwed in so many ways. The list is endless and I wish I could magically make it up to you, because you deserve better,” he said.

Montgomery County Council members and several local broadcast journalists also shared brief messages of encouragement and congratulations.

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith encouraged students to “look for the serendipity” in life and to be purposeful in their future endeavors.

“It’s so critical when you look to your future that you consider who you are, how you want to grow, how you want to support and help others, how you want to benefit the community and how you want to benefit from the community and society you live in,” Smith said.

To end the 90-minute ceremony, the school district had a rolling list of the more than 12,000 graduates’ names on the screen.

While the list scrolled, several students from each school shared well-wishes for their fellow graduates. Many highlighted their “strange” senior year, but said they are excited for the future.

“We have made memories we will never forget,” said Taylor Leonard, a Watkins Mill High School graduate. “… Although we are devastated to end the school year this way, we have left knowing we have contributed to an incredibly special school community of loving, accepting, talented and compassionate individuals and we are better for it.”

Arjun Akwei, a Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School student, said this year’s graduating class’ academic career was marked by factors “beyond our schools,” including climate change, school shootings and the coronavirus pandemic.

“These experiences, fun and sad, troubling and heartening, shaped who we are today,” Akwei said. “But, more than that, they gave us the courage and conviction to shape the world tomorrow.”

Each Montgomery County high school will also host its own virtual graduation ceremony this week.

The dates and times for those ceremonies are as follows:

June 8
Clarksburg High School, 10 a.m.
Regional Institute for Children & Adolescents (RICA), 10 a.m.
Thomas S. Wootton High School, noon
Damascus High School, 2 p.m.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, 4 p.m.
Col. Zadok Magruder High School, 7 p.m.

June 9
Winston Churchill High School, 10 a.m.
Poolesville High School, noon
Albert Einstein High School, 2 p.m.
Quince Orchard High School, 4 p.m.
Rockville High School, 7 p.m.

June 10
Paint Branch High School, 10 a.m.
Seneca Valley High School, noon
Wheaton High School, 2 p.m.
James Hubert Blake High School, 4 p.m.
Northwest High School, 7 p.m.

June 11
Sherwood High School, 10 a.m.
Montgomery Blair High School, noon
Walter Johnson High School, 2 p.m.
Springbrook High School, 4 p.m.
Northwood High School, 7 p.m.

June 12
Longview School, 10 a.m.
Rock Terrace School, 10 a.m.
John F. Kennedy High School, 10 a.m.
Watkins Mill High School, noon
Walt Whitman High School, 2 p.m.
Alternative Education Programs, 4 p.m.
Richard Montgomery High School, 4 p.m.
Gaithersburg High School, 7 p.m.

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