Alexandria, VA

T.C. Williams High School held a graduation ceremony like no other on Saturday, with world champion sprinter Noah Lyles, members of the student body, the superintendent and principal — while most of the school’s 865 graduates never left the comfort of their homes.

The virtual ceremony was the first of its kind in the history of the Alexandria City Public School system, as all schools throughout Virginia were shut down in March for the remainder of a school year that would also be defined by the state of race relations in the country. The graduating class of 2020 was also the largest in T.C. history, according to ACPS.

Lyles, a 2016 graduate of T.C., said that his life was also filled with adversity and that he is a lifelong asthmatic who was bullied in high school and is dyslexic.

“Facing those adversities are what got me here today,” Lyles said. “You need to know that you can make it through, because just this time period of 2020 will not be your last, and you can make it to the next one, and the next one and the one after that, and you will look back on the times of 2020 and say, ‘I got through that, and I came out stronger than ever.'”

Class President Amiya Chisolm said that she and her classmates faced a school year full of uncertainty and that it will make them stronger in the future.

“Right about now we had envisioned going to our prom, senior cookout, walking around the hallways of our elementary and middle schools and even hearing our names celebrated as we walk across the stage at (George Mason University),” Chisolm said. “Instead, we were unexpectedly hit with a pandemic that not only took away our plans — and some of our loved ones — but also blurred our futures. In addition to this pandemic, we have also witnessed multiple murders in the black community at the hands of police brutality.”

Posted by Alexandria City Public Schools on Monday, June 15, 2020

Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., said that the class made history with its virtual graduation, and that it will be defined by righting societal wrongs.

“These are times when we can actually collectively feel the uncertainty, the stress, the anxiety as individuals, as families as a school division and as a nation,” Hutchings said. “Class of 2020, we must advocate for social justice and anti-racism in America, regardless of your race, regardless of your background. This is a new time in all of our lives when all lives must matter and we must rethink our priorities, our values and reinvent a new normal.”

T.C. Principal Peter Balas said that the class of 2020 was one of the most special he has ever led, and challenged the graduates to lead the way in the future.

“I challenge you to lead the way and to be the change that you want to see in the world,” Balas said. “And to accept nothing less, because your futures matter. I can promise you that the class of 2020 will always be remembered.”

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Images via ACPS/Facebook

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