Friday, June 25, 2010

High School Graduation Days Defy Purveyors Of Gloom And Doom

High School Graduation Days Defy Purveyors Of Gloom And Doom
Copyright By R2C2H2

by A. Peter Bailey
NNPA Columnist
Thursday, June 24, 2010

(NNPA) - I recently attended the 136th graduation ceremony of Armstrong High School in Richmond, Virginia. My granddaughter, Tiara, was one of 205 seniors receiving diplomas from the historic high school whose alumni include Samuel Gravely, Jr., the U.S. Navy’s first Black admiral, L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first Black state governor, Spotswood Robinson III, a Brown vs. Board of Education attorney and Max Robinson, a pioneering national television anchor.

This was the first high school graduation I had attended in over 25 years. It was a memorable occasion, not only because of my personal interest but because of what I witnessed and experienced. Too many academicians, journalists and politicians spend much of their time writing gloom and doom essays, books, articles etc. about Black folks’ lack of appreciation for education. Those people need to attend an all-Black high school graduation such as the one at Armstrong. They would see parents, grandparents other relatives, friends and neighbors whose words and body language expressed great pride and tremendous joy at what they considered a major achievement by their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, friends and neighbors.

From the moment the students walked into the Landmark Theatre until the end of the ceremony, there were shouts of encouragement and congratulations by the attendees. Even members of the audience who looked like the stereotype of young wannabe thugs stood and shouted as their friends received their diplomas. Despite several requests that there be no applause or shouting out as each name was called, throughout the space each student’s cheering section let him or her know how proud they were of their accomplishments. And it seemed everyone had a camera.

Another prevailing myth was also challenged by what I saw - the one that African-American young men have a minimum interest in education. Over one-third of the graduates were young men, including Devon Doe, the class salutatorian who, in his brief speech, noted that “one of the most important things I learned during my four years at Armstrong is the importance of self-discipline.” Furthermore the recipient of a $10,000 scholarship from Capital One was another young man, Brandon Frye, who was also a member of the school’s National Technical Honor Society.

Armstrong’s graduation ceremony was steeped in Black cultural expression. After the obligatory Presentation of Colors and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, all joined together in a soulful singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Later in the program, three students from the school choir led everyone in a soul stirring, hand-clapping singing of “Lean on Me.” Some audience members shouted out “Sing, children” or “You got that right.”

The Black cultural aspect was also reflected in some of the students’ melodic, colorful, often one-of-a kind names such as Saqueena, Shaquana, Quashawn, DeanDre, Teyonkwa, LeJontu, Derwcila, Quaneika, I’esha, Jai Nisha, DiJuan and the name-of –the-day, Jo’Magesty.

Some people believe that such names are a hindrance when one is job-hunting. One of my nieces strongly believes this so she gave her daughter a name that doesn’t reveal ethnic or racial identify. What do readers of this column think about this?

What the gloom and doomers ought to do if they are serious is to take advantage of the high energy and optimism generated by Black graduation ceremonies and encourage parents, on that day, to sign up for a meeting during which they will receive concrete guidance on how to take advantage of education assistance programs sponsored by public and private sources.

Journalist/Lecturer A. Peter Bailey, a former associate editor of Ebony, is currently editor of Vital Issues: The Journal of African American Speeches. He can be reached at .

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