Story by Andrew Cluley
Photos by Andrew Cluley and Jo Mathis
An impressive class of graduates leaves Ann Arbor Public Schools’ five high schools in 2015. Over the last two weeks, 1,306 diplomas were awarded at commencement ceremonies for Pathways to Success Academic Campus, Community High School, Huron High School, Pioneer High School and Skyline High School.
From the classroom, to the district’s athletic fields, to the fine arts, the commencement ceremonies highlighted many of the achievements of these students.
Superintendent Jeanice Swift says the graduates are well prepared for their next challenges. “You have absolutely everything it takes to find your one place, unique in all the world,” she said. “We are proud today of the places you will discover, and the notable achievements you will realize.”
For many of the class of 2015, college is the next step. Ann Arbor Public Schools graduates will enroll next fall at more than 100 different colleges and universities. College destinations for the class of 2015 include the American University of Paris, Berklee College of Music, Brown, Cal-Berkeley, Cornell, Depaul, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Kenyon, Michigan State, Stanford, University of Michigan, Vanderbilt, and Yale. AAPS graduates will also attend the U.S Army and U.S. Naval Academies.
Graduates earned admission to these prestigious institutions of higher learning through their stellar performance in Ann Arbor Public Schools. Over 250 members of the Class of 2015 earned a grade point average of 3.9 or higher. Community High School graduates alone have been awarded over $4.4 million in merit scholarships.
Nia Willis gave the class message at Skyline High School. Willis encouraged her classmates to maintain the positive habits that served them well in high school. “Continue to be involved, keep your agile minds, big hearts, continue asking deep questions, and keep your eye on your desired destination,” she said.
While graduation serves as a time to highlight outstanding achievement, it’s also a chance to reflect back on obstacles and challenges overcome. Pathway’s graduate Karrah Weeder received her school’s Principals’ Distinguished Honors Award for character and determination to prevail despite all obstacles. Weeder says any type of recognition seemed unlikely her first year of high school when she was kicked out of Huron with a point-two grade point average.
”I’m a totally different person education wise, my attitude has improved about school. At Huron I just didn’t care,” Weeder says. “Now, I’m actually graduating. I never thought I was going to graduate in the first place. I had no plans to go to college.”
Of course, commencement ceremonies also serve as a chance to look towards the future and give young adults advice. English teacher Shawn Ashley urged Pioneer’s graduating class to respect the views of friends and family, but says they need to make their own choices. “You must make the decisions about your life and your happiness. You wake up each morning into your life. No one else does. I want each of you to wake to the day as I do, excited for the profession and lifestyle that I’ve chosen, that I’ve crafted,” Ashley said. “Don’t let others tell you how to live your life. Don’t let others tell you to choose a certain major, don’t let others tell you to vote in a certain way.”
Superintendent Jeanice Swift’s advice to the class of 2015 is in a similar vein. She described it as students needing to find their place. “I hope that you will find your place out there, that you will press your self in, that you will tailor your own unique role. Make sure it is a place, a life that fits you just right,” she said. “We all wish for you to serve in a role that is uniquely yours to fill.”
Huron Principal Jennifer Hein encouraged the graduates to use their creativity and throw their hearts and minds into everything they do; to use their ability to listen and work with others; to be bold, but helpful. “Remember that to be able to grow and excel and be successful means that you have learned that failure could be the most important part of your journey,” she said. “Use your sense of humor and your intelligence as a shield against the thoughtlessness and the cruelty of others. Life is not a selfie. Look through your eyes instead of your iPhone.”
Finally, commencement ceremonies serve as one final chance for students who have spent four years or more together to reflect back on all the experiences they shared.
In Ann Arbor, Community High School celebrates this aspect most, by allowing all graduates to share their thoughts. For Julian Stockton, Community High School means seeing the importance of passion in what you do and think.
“Being around students who love what they do so much, and teachers who love what they do so much, and see them get fulfillment in that when that aren’t necessarily getting fulfillment out of you know financial success or recognition, that meant a lot to me,” Stockton says.
Graduations are like a circus or sporting event now, not a ceremony of academic achievement.