Every year, a new group of high school graduates makes the transformation into adulthood. It is time for them to say goodbye to their families and start planning what to do for the rest of their lives.
It is also when the Spokesman-Recorder 501 (c) (3) marks the transition by awarding Cecil E. Newman Scholarships based on essay contest winners. Students, parents, educators and other community members packed the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley on May 25 to salute and celebrate the 2017 graduating seniors.
The scholarships were created to continue Newman’s legacy of mentoring and assisting youth in the community. Students wrote about obstacles they overcame, the people who helped them, and how they are planning their future. Friends and families were in the audience to share in the special occasion, exchange hugs and kisses, and take lots and lots of pictures.
This year, there were nine essay-based scholarship recipients: SharLamar Wren-Buchanan, Roosevelt High School; Ananda White, St. Anthony Village High School; Nia Kline, Eden Prairie High School; Dominique Johnson, Tartan High School; Alicia Harper, Johnson High School; Sadiyo Dirie, Wellstone International High School; Noah Branch, Patrick Henry High School; Morgan Bettin-Coleman, Benilde St. Margaret’s High School; and Molubah Seley of Brooklyn Center High School.
Shed G, the event emcee, had the audience laughing with his anecdotes and stories about family life. However, he also made a solemn request of the young people present: “Ladies and gentlemen, when you go on to do big things, please do not forget where you come from. Make sure you come back to your community.”
Entertainment also featured The Twin Cities Black Diamonds Dance Team directed by Jalissa Williams and a spoken word performance by Thandiszwe Jackson-Nisan. Motivational speaker Elizer Darris inspired the audience with words of wisdom centering on how to deal with “pressure principles,” giving the analogy of the diamond versus coal.
“Diamonds and coal have pressure in common,” he said. “Pressure is what turns decaying carbon into coal or diamond. One withstood enormous pressure, and became a diamond. The other didn’t face so much pressure and became coal. The pressure [for graduating students] will only increase.”
He pointed out that we all have stories and personal barriers to overcome. “I use my story of struggle and sacrifice of hard times to help individuals rise. My goal and mission is to lift up.”
Darris has a unique background. At 15, he was sentenced to natural life in prison, struggling for years in adult facilities. During that time, he studied law books to obtain knowledge and received his Associate Arts degree from Inver Hills Community College. Since his release he has become a business owner, IT specialist, and now a motivational speaker.
“No matter how difficult things get, you can always get to your next level,” Darris encouraged the graduates. “You are now responsible for 18 out of 18 of your decisions.”
After the encouraging words from Darris, the mother-son duo Tonia Hughes and Cameron Wright sang “The Greatest Love of All,” a fitting tribute to the young people present that night and to the adults who helped them to reach the moment.
An emotional moment came when Tracey Williams-Dillard, publisher and CEO of the MSR, took the stage. “I always say every year I’m not going to cry,” said a teary-eyed Williams-Dillard, causing others around the room to pat their eyes.
She continued, “But it’s too hard not to when I look in this room. I’m so proud of every one of you who has graduated, and for your parents [and other adults who] helped you get through it. I’m so proud.”
At the end there were drawings for prizes: Minnesota Twins tickets, two additional scholarships, and tickets to the Seward and Mississippi Market Food Co-ops.
“The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder has a commitment to helping young people,” said Williams-Dillard. “This year we published  student graduates [In the newspaper’s special graduation supplement]. It truly takes a village to raise a child.”
Below find an online version of the 2017 Community Yearbook, plus more photos by Travis Lee:
Ivan B. Phifer welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.