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From The Podium, High School Graduates Say What It Meant To Be The Class Of 2021

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're nearing the end of high school graduation season. And in a school year marked by change, virtual schooling and COVID scares, student speakers took to the podium to offer some reflections on the class of 2021.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

LILIAN SMITH: Class of 2021, scream if you can hear me.

KELISIA MORRISON: Good evening, parents, friends, teachers, administrators.

VANESSA AJUALIP HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish). My name is Vanessa Ajualip Hernandez, and on behalf of the class of 2021...

SMITH: My name is Lilian, and we went to high school together.

JACK SCOTT: My name is Jack Scott. I'm the class president.

IMAN MOZAFFARIAN: My name is Iman Mozaffarian. And I'm honored to stand before you today not only as our valedictorian but also as the senior with the best hair, according to our yearbook survey. I'm also the senior who held the record for quarantining the most kids when I got COVID, so...

SEAN POLK II: Y'all, we did it. It's so surreal to say, but we did it.

RAFAEL PEREYDA: I want to thank my mom and my dad for raising me.

MORRISON: Shoutout to my family for holding it down always.

AJUALIP HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

PAOLA GARCIA BARRON: To my older sister, who, as a teen mom, showed me that perseverance is just a mindset.

MORRISON: And last but definitely not least, I would like to thank myself for being persistent and believing in myself enough to accomplish...

SMITH: Let's be honest. I know it could have been worse, but this year sucked.

AJUALIP HERNANDEZ: There's a sense of pride I have knowing that our entire class was able to complete the two hardest years of high school online.

SCOTT: Feels like we've only been in school for three and a half years. Oh, wait. Thanks, COVID.

GARCIA BARRON: If this year has taught us anything, it is that we are resilient.

MCKENZIE BEESLEY: Teachers, I am sure you went home in tears each night trying to attempt this virtual teaching life to help us.

SMITH: The pandemic reminded us that life is far from linear. And this year, we each experienced different, unique challenges that instantly stopped our lives in their tracks.

MOZAFFARIAN: When the situations around us are dire and hopeless, we can always look to people to inspire meaningful change.

BEESLEY: Our class is on the cusp of being change-makers for a generation of which there are so many flaws. The world surrounding us has given us a unique opportunity to rise up and make an impact. For myself...

POLK: I learned that it's OK not to fit inside the boxes our society tries to put us in. It's OK.

(APPLAUSE)

POLK: It's OK to love art in ways that no one will ever understand. It's OK to speak up when something doesn't sit right with you. And it's more than OK to be unapologetically you.

MORRISON: Always be you. Learn yourself, and fall in love with who you are. If you don't know who you are or love yourself, you will get caught up in the world and lose your identity. In simple terms, you'll get lost in the sauce.

POLK: And if you can't love yourself, how you going to love anyone else? Can I get an amen?

(APPLAUSE)

GARCIA BARRON: As our high school days come to an end, reflect on those sleepless nights, rushed mornings trying to get to class on time and drawn-out lectures.

BEESLEY: Or the many times our poor teachers attempted Zoom meetings in which technical errors were inevitable.

POLK: We made it through the classes, the AP exams, the late night rehearsals, the SATs, the ACTs. And don't even get me started on the drama that comes with being a teenager.

MORRISON: And to end it all, as Nipsey Hussle once said, whatever you do, give your heart to it, and stay strong. And, class of 2021, we are officially out.

SCOTT: Graduates of 2021, be excellent in all you do.

AJUALIP HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

SMITH: We made the history books once by surviving this pandemic, and I wholeheartedly believe that we will continue to make history. I can't think of a better group to make history with. Congratulations, class of 2021. I love you all.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF ELGAR'S "POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE MARCH NO. 1")

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In order, that was Lilian Smith, Coeur D'alene High School in Idaho.

SHAPIRO: Kelisia Morrison, Eagle's Landing High School in Georgia.

CHANG: Vanessa Ajualip Hernandez, KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School in Tennessee.

SHAPIRO: Jack Scott of Anderson Preparatory Academy in Indiana.

CHANG: Iman Mozaffarian, Calvary High School (ph) in California.

SHAPIRO: Sean Polk II, Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C.

CHANG: Rafael Pereyda, McLoughlin High School in Oregon.

SHAPIRO: Paola Garcia Barron, Boulder High School in Colorado.

CHANG: And McKenzie Beesley, Sapulpa High School in Oklahoma.

SHAPIRO: Congratulations to all of you on your graduation.

CHANG: Woo (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF ELGAR'S "POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE MARCH NO. 1") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.