Earlier this week, the University of Chicago Charter School-Woodlawn Campus held their annual commencement ceremony for its graduating seniors. Kai Stewart, the class valedictorian, stepped to the microphone to address her classmates, school administration and hundreds of proud family members in the audience. During her speech, Kai reflected on her high school journey, spoke passionately and enthusiastically about her future and paid homage to her family, teachers and also, her haters. Kai said, “And most importantly, we want to thank the people that didn’t believe in us…because those that didn’t give us a chance became our ultimate motivation to make it to this day.”
Kai Stewart maintained the highest GPA in her class every year, will be attending Lincoln University in Pennsylvania on a full academic scholarship, is fluent in Spanish and has always been actively involved in extracurricular activities and community service. And, I am also proud to say that Kai Stewart is my little cousin.
As a person that has been working in the ed reform realm for years now, I cherish and celebrate these moments. Anyone in this field knows that the work can be physically and emotionally draining–the political push and pull, the obvious and dreadful systematic inequities, and most importantly, the families that are negatively impacted by these factors are difficult realities that we face and fight on a daily basis.
Nonetheless, these moments make the fight worth it. On Monday night, I witnessed the CEO of UCW bring his vision to fruition–one in which students would thrive in a learning environment that would catapult them to the next level of greatness. Educators that not only taught students algebra, history and foreign language, but also the importance of individuality, self-love and perseverance. A support system of family, friends and community members who sought to ensure that these students made it to graduate convocation by any means necessary. Most importantly, I witnessed a number of students on the southside of Chicago “make it”.
These are the moments to relish, these are the moments to commemorate, and these are the moments that the legislators, “haters” and entire community must take into consideration when making decisions in education…because behind the University of Chicago’s graduating class of 2016 are thousands of other students anxiously awaiting their moment.
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