It’s Commencement Season. With as many schools as there are in New York City, you’d be hard pressed to miss at least one gathering of pending graduates on a street, fuchsia or blue robes blowing in the wind. Or maybe the lone graduate, robe flowing, navigating crowds in a subway station to get to the big event on time. I get surprisingly emotional about other people’s graduations. There is a universality to the swelling of pride, joy, relief and hope that seeps out beyond those robes, despite the nonchalance that some graduates try painstakingly hard to convey, often manifested in attire not befitting the grandeur of the achievement.
My emotional reaction is compounded, though, by a couple of other factors: 1) what I know of the obstacles that many of New York City’s high school students in particular, have overcome in order to reach this milestone and 2) what this season commences for so many other young people who are not wearing those robes.
Depending on where you sit on the spectrum of per capita opportunities and resources, the inauguration of summer may not mark the completion of a tremendous achievement and the commencement of new beginnings, but rather a season of increased heat. Heat marked both by outside temperature, but also by inside strife including desperation, anger, resentment, depression, fear and disappointment.
While statistics on decreases in violence and crime in New York City may appease politicians and tourists, they mean little for the people that live in our poorest neighborhoods, which also have our highest arrest rates. Those of us that see young people from these neighborhoods all the time know that summer highlights high unemployment, low educational achievement, stop and frisks by the police, and too much idle time with no access to positive or constructive outlets for all the energy teenagers have. The American Dream, represented on billboards, television, and online, dangles in their faces, but they see no ladder to help them get up to that lofty place replete with choices, peace of mind, safety, encouragement, recognition, and the assumption that they can do what they dream. Violence is nurtured by these conditions.
One of exalt’s graduates who is exceptionally eloquent about the struggles of her peers and the need for us to collectively support them better is Griselda C., who started our program just as she turned 15 and was starting high school. Now, 17 and about to enter the 12th grade, she helps tell the stories of so many of our children in her weekly blog. Griselda presented a speech at Lehman College last week at a symposium put on by ISLAS, a new initiative through CUNY designed to bring Latino/a studies into high schools as well as strengthen it in the CUNY system.
So perhaps at some point this summer, while you’re sipping on a cool Mojito, putting some grass fed beef on the grill, or playing any sport on grass, rather than concrete, remember that you could change a young person’s entire summer, and perhaps entire outlook on her future, by hooking her or him up with an exalt supported internship at your company. In the words of exalt graduate Mandelo S., “be a part of the movement” to help end the school-to-prison pipeline.
Congratulations to these exalt students who have pushed through many obstacles and are graduating high school NOW!
Amarillis Montique Kierra Ikim Ashley Nakisha Lance Kyle Lisa
We welcome and love to share in tears of happiness.