May 23—ALBANY — As Albany's three public high schools celebrated with in-person commencement ceremonies for the first time in two years over the weekend, a theme emerged from the schools' speakers selected to offer remarks as some 650 students at Dougherty, Monroe and Westover high schools received diplomas.
That theme centered around perseverance, about overcoming, in particular the coronavirus that forced the students out of their comfort zones and into a new kind of education to which, school officials noted, they quickly adapted.
Reagan Bruce, one of three Westover students selected to offer comments in Saturday's late-afternoon commencement ceremony, may have said it best.
"Our senior year was an experience like no other," Bruce said. "We had no prom. No homecoming. Not even a senior skip day. We didn't get to hang out together after the football games, and we didn't get to sing the alma mater at pep rallies.
"Still, today, we're here."
Indeed, Westover had the largest graduating class among the three local public high schools with 285 graduates. Dougherty had 190 and Monroe 170. The ceremonies were held at the socially distanced Civic Center, which was only about half full during all three ceremonies, as school officials limited the number of tickets to four per student.
Bruce's fellow speakers at Westover (which did not name a traditional valedictorian or salutatorian) — Alicia Lewis and Camara King — offered their own encouraging words as they looked out on their classmates awaiting their turn to stride up onto the stage at the Civic Center to receive their long- and eagerly, awaited diplomas.
Lewis encouraged Westover grads, "As you march across the stage, this day is not only the end of one chapter, it is a step into the unknown." She then encouraged her fellow graduates: "Don't just bring something to the table, be the whole table."
King told her classmates not to "let anyone dim your shine." She told the graduates that one of the characteristics of a strong person is one who stands strong "while losing something small to achieve something big."
Earlier Saturday morning, Dougherty High Valedictorian Davon Davis told the Trojan graduates they should be commended for "moving forward in spite of what we endured."
"Whatever obstacles life throws your way, you can still be great," Davis said. "No matter how life chews you up and spits you out, you are destined for greatness."
Davis quoted Harriet Tubman: "Every great dream begins with the dreamer."
Dougherty Salutatorian Khalil Braswell said that life is not made up of paths with no obstacles.
"No matter how hard or how many times you fall, you have to get back up and succeed," Braswell, who enlisted in the Army in 2018 and has completed basic training, said. "We all have to be the best we can be."
On Friday, twins Jaiden and Jordan Brown offered valedictory and salutatory speeches, respectively, for Monroe High graduates.
Jaiden Brown, who said she decided in ninth grade that she would be the Class of '21's valedictorian and that her sister would be salutatorian, said she used that bit of boldness throughout her high school career in an effort to achieve her goal.
"If the pandemic taught us anything, it's that time waits for no one," Jaiden Brown said. She encouraged her classmates to "become addicted to being successful, become addicted to being the best."
Jordan Brown boasted that the Civic Center auditorium seats were filled with next-generation doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, teachers and leaders.
"Whatever you want to do, do it," she said. "You can achieve any goal you want to achieve."