BY JIM MASTERS – EDUCATION REPORTER
LANSING, Ill. (June 25, 2021) – It was a sight to behold Wednesday evening at TF South’s Padjen Field: 443 graduating seniors in cap and gown with the bleachers on both sides of the field packed with their family and friends.
The Class of 2021 is a remarkable group, having overcome a global pandemic and a sudden shift to remote learning to complete their education and receive their high school diplomas. Learning under the most difficult of circumstances, they arrived on graduation day to a world that had opened up once again, thanks in large part to COVID-19 vaccines.
A bittersweet celebration
A fitting conclusion to a tumultuous year school year, the commencement speeches were a bit out of the ordinary, and appropriate for the occasion. There was much to celebrate, bittersweet as it was for those heavily impacted by the pandemic.
After the 25 highest-achieving students stood for recognition, TF South Principal Jacob Gourley opened his remarks to the Class of 2021 with a poignant look at the world they had endured during their senior year.
“We are at a finish line that has been uncertain to us since March 13, 2020, when we learned the world around us was about to shut down,” he said. “Class of 2021, you will go down in the history books like no other, having endured the most difficult 14-month period in modern history.”
He continued, “The troubling times brought out the best in us and the worst in us. We witnessed countless stories of those who helped others succeed and strive through some of our darkest days. We saw countless examples of systemic racism and social injustice played out in the worst ways, along with countless examples of our better angels who organized and demanded better from our society.”
Gourley informed the students that life’s challenges still lie ahead, but they are now better prepared to meet those challenges for all that they have endured.
“As you leave the halls of TF South, know you are entering a world that will continue to throw challenges in your path, but also that you have endured and persevered and are so equipped to handle virtually anything,” he said.
Offering some advice for their future, Gourley said, “I can only ask that whatever you choose to do while you spend your days on earth that you spend them doing something you enjoy. Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will succeed.”
The first graduating class to take the SAT in a mask
District 215 Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Sophia Jones-Redmond, asked everyone to “take a collective breath” following a journey filled with many twists and turns. “We’ve had to pivot, speed up, slow down, wait, hurry up, redo, undo, stop, and start, and then do it all over again,” she said, thanking parents and staff for “going beyond the call of duty.”
“Graduates, you have learned through your high school experience, especially this year, to look for and accept the yeses,” Jones-Redmond said. “Class of 2021, you’re a special class. … no other graduating class in 100 years has gone through an entire academic year in a pandemic, but you have. You have experienced what no one present here today has experienced — a senior year of uncertainty, unrest and simply unclear, but you have. No class has ever had to take the SAT in a mask, but you have.”
Valedictorian and salutatorian address classmates
Offering his congratulations to the Class of 2021, Valedictorian Fernando Lopez reminded them how much they achieved turning such tumultuous times.
“We, as America, witnessed the public outcry to an already built up tension caused by decades of systemic racism and racial injustice,” he said. “We witnessed not one but two impeachment trials in the span of just little over a year. We watched attacks on our democracy as the Capitol was raided and a fair election was contested spread on by claims by an ex-president. This all unfolded as a pandemic raged on across the world, changing life as we know it. Yet through it all, this class sits before me as a shining example of hope, of light, of love, but most importantly, of what’s yet to come.”
Addressing his classmates, Salutatorian Parth Patel said, “It was a long and tough journey through the four years, but each student here tonight has proved that the journey can be completed. Today marks the end of the journey and the beginning to a new start, which will carve a path that we are expected to walk on.”
Following the awarding of diplomas, Gourley officially presented the Class of 2021. And with that, they graduates joyously tossed their caps in the air.
TF South Class of 2021 at a glance
- President, Saniah Johnson
- Vice President, Janay Smith
- Secretary, Payton Stachelski
- Treasurer, Adam Jones
Perfect Attendance Award
- Gift John Ndon (4 years)
- “Through Da Storm” by Polo G
- Red and Gold
- “How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be — fierce and free. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”
– by Amanda Gorman, Presidential Inaugural Poet
- Amaryllis Red
Senior class sponsor
- Giena Palmer-Reed
Junior Honor Marshalls
- Javier Alcantar and Madeline Gann