Mount Vernon Students Celebrate Graduations Virtually, At School

Lanning Taliaferro

From the Mount Vernon school district

MOUNT VERNON, NY — The Class of 2020 from The Mount Vernon High School and Nellie A. Thornton High School celebrated commencement in their own unique way on Saturday.

In all, 288 graduates from MVHS and 160 from NTHS were honored separately with virtual ceremonies on videos posted to YouTube for families to watch and then drive-by ceremonies at each of the schools. Under the governor’s executive orders limiting public gatherings because of the pandemic, graduations needed to be done a little differently this year.

But, even though they were not Mount Vernon’s standard commencement ceremonies, they were still memorable occasions. There were still plenty of tears, smiles and cheers by the graduates and their families.

For both schools, the seniors and their families gathered at their school, and then joined a driving procession that included stops for students to receive a gift, their diploma jacket and a professional photo.

In addresses to both schools, Dr. Kenneth P. Hamilton praised graduates for their tenacity.

“It is indeed an extraordinary day, you are the first class to graduate in the midst of a pandemic,” he said. “The pandemic has forever changed our lives and our worlds. Many of you haven’t seen your friends or extended families since March. We somehow managed to move forward. We came together as a community.”

Dr. Hamilton also spoke about the recent nationwide tragedies that have further revitalized the social justice and Black Lives Matter movements.

“What can you do in your own lives to honor those lives who have unwillingly sacrificed so much to bring us to this remarkable place in our history?” he asked them as a challenge. “What will scholars say of these turbulent times in 10 years or 20 years? What will you tell your children?”

In his concluding comments, Dr. Hamilton stressed: “Please know that I pray for you every day.”


Mount Vernon High School Principal Ronald Gonzalez told students everyone recognized the situation surrounding their graduation was different than expected.

“We can all certainly agree that these were not the circumstances we figured to be in at the onset of your high school experience, or even at the start of this year,” he said. “Nonethess I believe this gives you another opportunity to show the world what you’re made of. You are the generation that is already changing the world. You are Mount Vernon ‘Strong.’ You are Mount Vernon Knights.”

Valedictorian Bryan Bueno reminded classmates of the responsibility they have as young adults venturing out into the world.

“The future of this nation rests on your shoulders,” he said. “We all have been able to adapt and overcome the challenges that became more than evident a few months ago. And those challenges are still affecting us even until this moment. Let us not forget that our skin color does not define us. Because afterall, at the end of the day, we all bleed the same, even if the judgment of some of us is clouded by the same biases we have created over the years.”

Salutatorian Abdulla Saleh told students today was a landmark day for them.

“(It’s) a mark of victory in the high school journey,” he said. “The journey has not been an easy one. I thank our teachers for being there for us, for sacrificing for us. Our respect and admiration for you cannot be expressed in words. Difficulties are inevitable in life, but there is truly a way out of every challenge. Always take time to discover solutions to the problems which knock at your door.”

Allan Houston, a former New York Knicks guard, current general manager of the Westchester Knicks G-League team and a special assistant to the general manager for the New York Knicks, also gave a congratulatory message.

He praised the graduates for their hard work, dedication perservance and commitment.

“It’s time to look ahead and be prepared, be equipped,” he reminded them. “The goal is only one thing…to win. You’re headed for sucesss, for winning, but there’s a path to get there. Along that path there will be obstacles. It’s going to be a long journey, but you’re going to get there.”

Mr. Houston also implored students to not limit their vision, say ‘no’ to doubts and shortcuts, don’t make excuses, and never have any regrets.

After the speeches, Mr. Gonzalez read each student’s name as their photos and profiles appeared.


Nellie A. Thornton High School Principal Dr. Evelyn Collins told her graduates by video they were making history by being among the millions of students graduating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We all know how difficult the last four months have been,” she said. “Regardless, these kids have perservered, they moved forward. They all stayed on point. As a principal, I am very proud of this particular group of students. For that, I will always have a very special place in my heart for them.”

Valedictorian Ashanti Palmer advised students to not compare their achievements to others.

“When you compare your achievements to someone else’s you’re only creating an envious atmosphere for yourself, and growth cannot happen in one,” she said. “That is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. When someone has a fixed mindset, they become envious of what someone has, and they set limits for themselves because they don’t believe they can achieve the same level of success as someone else. With a growth mindset, however, you focus on acquiring success by any means necessary because self-improvement is key. A growth mindset is one that everyone should gravitate towards because it promotes maturity and success in all aspects of your life.”

Salutatorian Shanoy Bowen noted the Class of 2020 missed out on doing many of the things they were excited to experience as seniors.

“The history books will remember the resilience and endurance of the Class of 2020, the class who managed to defy all odds and come out on top,” she added. “We have been the record keepers and the witnesses to history, and now it is time for us to be the authors. If this year’s events have proven one thing, it is that anything is truly possible. And that includes all of us achieving our wildest dreams, all of you reaching your wildest goals.”

Class President Jordan Thompson reminded students they beat the odds and persevered.

“If I’ve learned one thing in these four years of high school it would be the true meaning of determination,” he said. “Blindly pursuing success in life makes you a follower, because everyone wants to be successful. Why do you want to be successful? What does success mean to you? Find your meaning of success and pursue it wholeheartedly and you will understand the true meaning of determination. You’ve managed to be the light in a time of darkness. Utilize that same strength that you used to get you to this point to take you further in life.”

Singer, songwriter, dancer, and actress Beyoncé offered a congratulatory message to students.

“My parents did teach me the value of education, how to be authentic in my actions and how to celebrate individuality and the importance of investing in myself,” she said, including the sharing of a story about her nervousness of starting her own business during one point during her career. “You’re achieving things your parents and grandparents never could have imagined for yourselves. You are the answer to a generation of prayers. Know that stepping out is the best thing you can do for self-discovery.”

The video also included a performance from the Performing and Visual Arts Magnet School’s Dance Ensemble. After the speeches, Dr. Collins read each student’s name while photos and profiles appeared.

After the ceremonies, at 4 p.m., residents throughout Mount Vernon joined in the celebrations by coming out of their homes to clap, honk horns, bang pans, and cheer to honor the graduates.

To watch the commencement ceremonies:

This article originally appeared on the Mount Vernon Patch