Urbana High graduates a class of 'change-makers'

·3 min read

Jun. 3—The members of Urbana High School's Class of 2021 want to change the world.

The school's graduation ceremony Thursday morning featured messages of hope, equity and resilience from both adult and student speakers.

Student speaker Danielle McNerney recalled how the graduating seniors of Urbana High spent the last year not only finishing up high school but also speaking up for causes they cared about.

"Our class is filled with change-makers, and in a time that will certainly go down in history books, we let our voices be heard," McNerney said. "We spoke out against the violence and polarization that has plagued our nation so intensely this year ... we are actively creating the changes we wish to see."

Before the graduates — dressed in striking blue robes — walked onto the school's field in front of friends and family, they spoke about how the COVID-19 pandemic changed them and prepared them to step out into the world.

"It definitely changed my attitude and my outlook on life ... especially with this pandemic, I'm really grateful that I didn't lose anybody close to me," said graduate Uriah Banawoye. "Every moment with my family members was truly special to me ... and I've made sure I always tell my parents and my sister I love them."

Graduate Dylan Jones said, besides learning crucial time management skills, the pandemic made him appreciate his teachers and all the people who helped him get to graduation day.

"I think it's taught me to appreciate the little things in life. We took so much for granted before all of this happened, and now being able to be here at graduation with all our friends and family ... I think it's super nice that we can have this event," he said.

Gabrielle Shaw, another graduate, said the last year was incredibly isolating, but she believes it made her and her classmates stronger and more capable for future bumpy roads.

Shaw and Jones are emblematic of the graduating class' "change-makers" based on their future plans. Jones will attend the University of Colorado Boulder on an Army ROTC scholarship. After finishing a degree in marketing, Jones plans to join the Army as an officer.

Shaw is attending the Pratt Institute in New York, where she will study architecture. Long term, Shaw wants to start her own architecture firm to help indigenous tribes in America build their own spaces.

This year's senior class is the first in Urbana High School's history to have graduated on the school's home field. As Principal David Kehne said, "There is no class more deserving."

Kehne said saying goodbye to the Class of 2021 is harder than most since time with the seniors was ripped away. But the principal left the graduates with one last message reminding them of the change-makers they can continue to be.

"Seniors, each of you has the power to effect change in the world, and as you go forth I remind you to be kind and build bridges, even when doing so seems impossible," he said.

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill