On Thursday May 28, 2021, one hundred and seventy-nine graduates from Esperanza Academy crossed the stage at McCarthy Stadium on the campus of LaSalle University. For many teachers and students, this was the first time they had seen each other in person during this academic year, or maybe their first time ever meeting at all. Some students had transferred to the Academy just days before the pandemic began. Their entire experience of Esperanza Academy had been virtual.
The ceremony felt to many like a collective exhale. The reunion had its own energy, and conversation bubbled as a community reunited. Then, a hush fell over the crowd and the graduates descended upon the field. The ceremony began to feel sacred. The audience stood as student Alaisha Rodriguez sang the national anthem, and then sat as Salutatorian Mateo Ruiz-Leal shared about his love for learning. Later, when the Valedictorian DeAngelo Santiago teared up at his gratitude for his mother’s hard work, we began to empathize even deeper with the emotions of the students. This ceremony was much more than finishing high school like in years past. It was the end of a long struggle in front of a computer screen, a year devoid of their typical life. It was a celebration of the love and sacrifice each proud family member had given to see their beloved student cross the stage into the next chapter of their life. It was the letting go of one hundred and seventy-nine children to step forth as adults into an uncertain world. Yet, as Angel Ortiz, Chairman of Esperanza Academy’s Board of Trustees, took to the podium, the atmosphere shifted. The graduates had received their diploma. They were sitting up straighter now, with the final moments of the ceremony approaching. Ortiz looked at the students, “Felicidades!” he shouted to them, and to the families and the crowd roared with laughter, relief, and happiness. They had completed the year. For them, pandemic schooling had ended. High school had ended.
They had reached the first of perhaps many academic achievements. Tears streamed down some of their faces and teachers lined along the edge of the processional as they hugged and high-fived their students for the last time. It was an unforgettable evening, in an unforgettable year.
Ciento setenta y nueve graduados de la Academia Esperanza cruzaron el escenario en el McCarthy Stadium en el campus de la Universidad LaSalle.(Foto: Impacto)