On May 26, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder hosted the 21st annual Graduation Celebration at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Known for its unifying theme “It’s A Family Affair,” each year the Graduation Celebration brings together proud parents, mentors, teachers, community members and African and African American graduating high school seniors for a free dinner, entertainment, a keynote message and a college scholarship awards presentation. Also this year, high school juniors were invited to participate, and several did so.
Several fortunate seniors in attendance would receive scholarships at the end of the evening based on 600-word essays previously submitted describing the person or persons who played a major role in their graduation from high school. Scholastic achievement, overcoming challenges and obstacles, and the luck of the draw were additional factors determining scholarship awards.
The evening began with a message from the director of the Grammy Award-winning Sounds of Blackness, Gary Hines, who was there to introduce a new song and video collaboration between the Sounds of Blackness and the St. Paul High School for Performing Arts students, entitled “Royalty,” which was dedicated to the graduates. “You have to know where you came from. You are not the descendants of slaves. You are the descendants of kings and queens,” said Hines to the graduates.
The song and video was well received to thunderous applause. Shed G announced that “Royalty” was currently number five on the gospel music charts.
Following Hines was a warm and funny welcome from comedian, actor, and KMOJ radio personality Shed G, who served as emcee for the evening. During his opening routine, Shed G drew a contrast between the all-White college he first attended to play basketball — “My first year of college, I went to UNC, the University of Nothing but Caucasians,” he joked — and the difference in marching band styles between UNC and where he later transferred, Norfolk State University, a historically Black college in Norfolk Virginia.
On a sincere note to the students, Shed G said, “It’s never too late to get an education. No matter what you go through, make sure you get an education, because that’s one thing that they can’t take away from you.” After getting the audience fired up, Shed G thanked the sponsors of this year’s event, which included the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) newspaper, the Minnesota Twins, and Education Minnesota.
Shed G introduced the Step Group Onyx from DeLaSalle High School as the first local performer. Following Onyx was Amani Ward, a 19-year-old vocalist from St Paul Central High School, who was accompanied by Jamez Powell on piano. Ward sang “Feeling Good” by the late, great Nina Simone, and two other people besides this writer reported getting chills while listening to Ward’s voice, which was reminiscent of Simone’s.
Keynote speaker Michelle Perdue was introduced as the president and CEO of Speak to Advance Communications, a training development company created to advance the careers, networks and communication skills of aspiring leaders and women executives. “Always give back, never give up, and try to fail forward, Perdue offered as three things she wanted the graduates to always remember.
Then she did an appreciation inventory by asking the graduates to raise their hands if they just recently gave gratitude or appreciation to someone like a mother, sister, teacher or a brother. Perdue then asked the graduates to repeat after her and tell that person, “I am all that I am because of all that you do, and for that, I am grateful.”
Perdue encouraged everyone to make it a point to volunteer and give back, a lesson that she learned from her grandmother, who countered Perdue’s belief that volunteering was a waste of time. “If you never give back, you will never know the gifts you might be missing out on,” said Perdue.
Following Perdue were performances from spoken word artist Kaoz, vocalist Nnamdi Okorie, and last but not least the Elite Step Team from Patrick Henry High School.
Gina Allen, a former Cecil E. Newman scholarship winner, returned to give back and began announcing the scholarship winners. This year’s five essay winners and their Cecil E. Newman scholarship sponsors are: Aamira Redd ($1,000, Stagetime),
($1,000, Stagetime), Praise Hall ($1,000, Minnesota State Baptist Convention — MSBC), Brandon Banks ($1,000, MSBC) and Amia Bridgeford ($1,000, MSBC).
President, CEO and Publisher of the MSR Tracey Williams-Dillard told the graduates, “I am so proud of each and every one of you for graduating high school. It is a huge milestone.” Also, Williams-Dillard announced two $500 tribute scholarships in honor of her late grandmother Launa Q. Newman, who became the MSR publisher after Cecil Newman passed in 1976 until handing over the responsibility to Williams-Dillard in 2008.
Shed G and Williams-Dillard conducted drawings for these scholarships won by Avery Weiler and Britney Roberts. A third drawing was held for a $500 scholarship sponsored by Micheal Diehl and family won by Jessica Tamba. Apparently on the spur of the moment, Shed G. announced he would be providing an additional $500 scholarship to a student, Jasmine Dickerson, from his alma mater. In all, nine students left the Celebration with $500-$1,000 to ease the cost of their college education.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more photos by Travis Lee below: