Teacher Glenda Gilchrist-Pinkett greeted many of the 210 Newark High School graduates who poured into the Glasgow football stadium on Monday, ensuring the new chapter of their lives started with a friendly face and positive words.
“I've been working at Newark for 10 years and every year I participate in graduation because it's such an exciting event for these children,” said Gilchrist-Pinkett, dressed head to toe in the school colors of yellow and black. “I teach a class to seniors, so it's always good to see them as they progress. Everyone wants to hear a greeting. It makes them feel good.”
With temperatures in the 90s, Monday's event was Newark High's first traditional outdoor graduation in recent memory. Due to the pandemic, all Christina School District schools held their ceremonies at the Glasgow football field, rather than the Bob Carpenter Center.
School board member Claire O’Neal, a parent of two NHS students, addressed the seniors, commenting on their flexibility and how students used technology to stay in touch with friends to keep healthy social bonds and stay on top of school work.
“You are flexible, resilient, a class of innovators,” O’Neal said. “You can truly say where some saw problems, you saw opportunity.”
Principal Aaron Selekman said there was no point in giving the usual inspirational words about “pursuing your goals” and other standard graduation fare because the grit and determination students showed during the pandemic proved they are already prepared for the world and able to overcome adversity.
“In my years of presiding over graduations and attempting to offer inspirational words, the truth is it is you who are an inspiration to us,” Selekman said.
Valedictorian and Class President Altaf Baccus honored teacher Daniel Peck for his inspirational teaching and ability to see the beauty in the little things.
During his address to the 2021 class, Baccus emphasized how it’s important for students to express their own beliefs and values.
“The most important thing you can do is advocate for yourself, especially in these pressing times where it is more important than ever to express your own beliefs and values,” Baccus said. “Even if the whole world is against you, it only takes one person to make a stand.”
For graduate Tyler Smith, the hardest parts of high school were finding himself, learning what his interests are and finding the right friends.
“Once my junior year started, I started to mature and found the right crowd to be around,” Smith said.
Smith, who was a linebacker for the Yellowjackets football team, said he will especially miss sports as he goes into the workforce working for a contracting company. His happiest moment was winning his senior night football game, as he watched the team improve since his freshman year.
One parent of three NHS graduates, Mikesha Clay, said her daughter, Ahsariah Comer struggled with shyness but was able to work through it and succeed in school.
“She couldn’t get it at first and then she was like, “You know what, I gotta figure this out,” Clay said.
Comer hopes to become a nurse.
Jazmin Ramirez plans to pursue a career in digital design after graduation and said art classes at NHS helped lead to her decision.
“It definitely is worth it. All the late nights, the all-nighters, it's all worth it,” said Ramirez. “I’ve been waiting to experience this for a long time, so I’m very proud of myself.”
Ramirez took five years to graduate and said making time to take care of mental and physical health enabled her success.
“First time around I couldn’t make it, because of personal issues,” Ramirez said. “I’m glad I came back and gave it my all.”