Reunited after a year, Miami celebrates the Class of 2021 with in-person graduations

Miami Herald | by David Brothers, Asta Hemenway, Emily Rivera and Colleen Wright | June 1, 2021

The Class of 2021 has never known life without “Finding Nemo” or “SpongeBob SquarePants.” They’ve never had to rewind a VHS tape or contend with text message limits. They are as old as Apple’s iTunes store.

And they never could’ve imagined living through a global pandemic during their senior year.

On Tuesday, they got the chance to celebrate, surmounting every challenge that came their way at in-person graduation ceremonies — an event that was unimaginable a year ago. Miami-Dade County Public Schools began its weeklong marathon of 65 graduation ceremonies with Coral Gables Senior High School.

Students in Coral Gables’ 71st graduating class marched in under a sprawling tent at the Miami-Dade Fair and Expo to “Pomp and Circumstance.” Masks were worn and the microphone was wiped after every speaker: Student Council President Sara Rabell, Senior Class President Sofia Rebull, School Board member Mari Tere Rojas, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Principal Tony Ullivarri.

Carvalho, who started his tenure as superintendent in 2008, said he felt he was graduating with the seniors. This is the first class he’s watched as superintendent go from kindergarteners to seniors.

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho speaks to the graduates of Coral Gables Senior High on Tuesday, June 1, 2021, at the Miami-Dade Fair & Expo.

In his speech, Carvalho reminded graduates young they were (“Yeah!” by Usher was the No. 1 song when they were born) and quoted a “modern philosopher” — the rapper Drake. Calling the crowd of young adults the “wire generation,” he said they are brave, aware, compassionate and intellectually superior to past generations. Continuing, he told students they’ve mastered the art of game playing but are destined for big things.

Rebull, the senior class president, recalled the stress of high school during the pandemic but added that they brought back homecoming and enjoyed class trips and pep rallies.

“Trust me, I know that getting here wasn’t easy,” she said.

About 150 graduates were recognized virtually, with their names and some graduate photos on the screen. The rest in a class of over 700 graduates got to walk across their stage and move their mortar board tassels to the left. Graduates received their diploma covers before posing 6 feet away from Ullivarri for a quick photo.

Ullivarri said 98% of registered seniors are officially graduating. Of those, 50% will be first-generation college students, and 458 seniors already have college credits. Gables’ Class of 2021 earned $26 million in scholarships.

The school played its alma mater before proceeding out to the universal graduation anthem: “Graduation (Friends Forever)“ by Vitamin C.

MAST @ FIU Biscayne Bay Campus celebrates its 97 graduates at an in-person graduation commencement on Tuesday, June 1, 2021 at Ocean Bank Convocation Center at FIU. TWITTER VIA MIAMI-DADE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS


Meanwhile, the Class of 2021 MAST at FIU reunited for the first time in over a year at Ocean Bank Convocation Center at FIU. With a smaller graduating class of 97, they held a more intimate ceremony.

There were only a handful of virtual graduates; most walked across the stage. They were announced with the college they plan on attending.

Principal Matthew J. Welker put the year into perspective. When he began his career, there were no computers, no cell phones, no copy machines, no internet.

“The idea that we could identify, treat, and create a vaccine for a never-before-seen virus in less than a year was not only incomprehensible back then: It was impossible,” Welker said. “Not to mention the improbability of creating a distance learning platform to educate thousands of children in their homes, or the logistics that would be required to consistently feed families in a large metropolitan area like Miami, and yet we did it. We did it because we harness the collective power of human thought and ingenuity.”

He said MAST @ FIU’s Class of 2021 earned more than $13 million in scholarships, the highest for any class yet.

Student Government Association president Nikola Desnica celebrated his fellow classmates.

“We created a culture of acceptance, playfulness and respect. We embraced each other’s differences and quickly figured out that they are what connects us,” he said. “If I can give you any piece of advice, it is that you cherish the values we gained here for the rest of your lives. Maintain your integrity, your kindness, your hard work, and always stay true to yourselves, the beautiful, weird, interesting and loving people you are. If we can do that, I have no doubt we will do amazing things.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Coral Gables Senior High graduates march into the tent at the Miami-Dade Fair & Expo, 10901 Coral Way, on Tuesday morning for their 2021 in-person graduation ceremony. Miami-Dade County Public Schools kicked off its celebration of the Class of 2021 with Coral Gables Senior High School on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. After a year of disruptions, the district was able to hold in-person high school graduation commencements. MIAMI-DADE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Featured image: Graduates of MAST @FIU Biscayne Bay campus enjoy their 2021 graduation June 1 at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center at FIU’s main campus. BY MIAMI-DADE SCHOOLS

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