By AARON GETTINGER
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, who is a Kenwood graduate, gave the commencement address as 360 students graduated from Kenwood Academy Monday morning at McCormick Place’s Arie Crown Theater.
Senior Class President Jelani Hill gave a reflection after the graduates’ procession to “Pomp and Circumstance,” the national anthem was played and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was sung. He noted that the class had earned $45 million in scholarships, the most in school history, among other accomplishments.
“It seemed like the girls in the class completely dominated in every aspect. The guys, they didn’t do so bad, either,” he joked. “And Kenwood, you are the reason I personally strive for greatness every day.
“Being with like-minded peers, great teachers, staff and the family environment really pushed and motivated me to want to do better — not only for myself, but for others as well. I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not gone to this high school.”
In her valedictory address, Lauren Calvin noted the main challenges high school presented, from choosing classes to debating the merits of studying and hanging out with friends. “As I enter college, there’s an expectation that I choose my own path, which is exciting but also presents the discomfort of my need to live without direction,” she said, lamenting the lack of guidance she will receive and its effect on her next four years.
But Calvin compared the feeling today to the feeling she experienced as a Kenwood freshman. “This time, it’s less about being able to pass a class or a test and more about whether or not I am choosing an appropriate path,” she said. “I believe we should embrace the uncertainty that this time allows without being aimless, without being afraid to ask for help, to listen to the whispers in the wind that tell you something isn’t right, to not get caught up in comparing your former self to the new one.
“Your journey isn’t about its origin. It’s about its destination,” Calvin said.
Stratton called the day “the beginning of a new adventure” and told her audience that they would be “increasingly amazed at how the core foundation and love of learning that was developed right at Kenwood Academy will help carry you through the peaks and the valleys, the twists and the turns, the ups and the downs of this journey called life.”
In a call-and-response, the lieutenant governor led the class to affirm “I’ve made it” past struggles at home or the classroom, conflict with their friends or their emotions and life disappointments, losses or setbacks. “These experiences that you’ve had do not define you, but they helped shape who you are, and they will also serve as a constant reminder that what you thought would break you actually made you stronger and has prepared you for what’s next.”
She said the future requires “an expression of your truest selves in relation to one another,” their lived experiences “full of insight and wisdom,” hearts, compassion, and personal narratives “into spaces that for far too long have been dictated by people who didn’t come to your communities or are unfamiliar with your stories.”
“We need you to tell the truth about your communities, the assets as well as the challenges,” said Stratton, a native South Sider and the first African American to hold her office. “You are our ancestors’ wildest dream, and they are cheering you onto victory.”
The graduates then rose in unison and sang their class song, pledging to hold “our memories in hearts for always.”
Jasmine Love, Khaliya Davis, Christian Ward, Diva Hunt, Asattah Young and Margalit Roitman received the Sara Spurlark awards, named for a former Kenwood administrator, which recognize students who exemplify a commitment to school and community service and demonstrated academic achievement, having graduated at or above the 75th percentile, and moral character.