Jun. 5—MANCHESTER — After a year of first-time experiences and landmark events in and out of school, the Manchester High School Class of 2021 celebrated the first Black female valedictorian in the town's history Saturday during a two-part ceremony.
Like the class before them, the Class of 2021 faced a senior year filled with social distancing, altered plans, and modified celebrations — something class Vice President Mia Hwang called "anything but ordinary." Today, though, things felt a little more normal when graduates lined up in the bleachers of the football field for a ceremony.
People spoke about the past year of COVID-19 and the heightened attention on racial injustice in the United States over the last year, and Board of Education Chair Darryl Thames highlighted Soraya Chanterelle as the first Black female valedictorian in the school's history. Chanterelle plans to go on and attend Howard University.
"Howard University is my alma mater, and did I mention that Kamala Harris, our vice president, is also a graduate of Howard university?" Thames said. "I so proud of our valedictorian, just as I am of the whole Class of 2021."
Chanterelle congratulated and thanked her fellow graduates for sharing their high school journeys together. She transferred to Manchester High School during her sophomore year after leaving a school she said she hated. After arriving to a much more diverse school in Manchester, she became involved in social and racial justice issues. The valedictorian said that if her class and generation want to make change and improve the country and world, the work starts now.
"Demand respect and make your voice heard," Chanterelle said. "Make your voice heard and never back down.
Manchester teacher of the year Gerry Navarra told graduates to take initiative and make the change they want to see.
"If you don't like the way cops do their job, become a police officer. If you don't like the way your teachers educate, become a teacher. If you don't think politicians govern with your best interests in mind, become a politician," Navarra said. "It's that simple, and that hard."
High temperatures and a blistering sun didn't turn away families and friends from celebrating the hundreds of high school graduates that received their diplomas.
Stepping up to take pictures, Luis Rosas said he was "very proud" of his daughter Crystal Morales Rosas for graduating in such a different sort of year.
David Beauregard shared similar sentiments after watching his nephew Jack Beauregard graduate. He said he was happy his nephew was able to have a proper and relatively normal graduation ceremony, something the Class of 2020 couldn't have.
"At least they get to have a graduation outside and do it similar to what we did," David Beauregard said.
Today marked and end to a week of celebrations for the Class of 2021. Students visited their old elementary schools to meet with previous teachers and staff over the past several days, and posters featuring graduates decorated the school's Brookfield Street fence ahead of the ceremony. A car parade around town was held Thursday, a favorite new tradition in Manchester that was created last year during the peak of COVID-19.
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