SIUE East St. Louis Charter High School Seniors Celebrate – Winning Despite the Odds – During Graduation

EAST ST. LOUIS – A new account has been written about academic success following the pandemic, courtesy of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville East St. Louis Charter High School’s (CHS) graduating class of 2023. 

Venessa A. Brown, PhD, associate athletics director for diversity, equity and inclusion, athletics chief diversity officer, professor of social work, former SIUE East St. Louis Center executive director and CHS commencement speaker, recast for graduates a lyrical and empowering soundtrack during the school’s graduation Friday, May 19 on the Wyvetter H. Younge Higher Education Campus in East St. Louis. 

“Today, we write a new narrative about being products of the pandemic,” intoned Brown. “You are well. You are resilient. You have hope.” 

Under a beautiful, blue sky and pleasant temperatures, 28 CHS seniors marched across the stage to receive their diplomas – a reward for their years of struggle, commitment and perseverance.   

Meridian Scholar

CHS Director Gina Jeffries, EdD, applauded those who helped make the day possible by first recognizing the CHS faculty and staff, including Larry McCoy who stood in proxy for his wife, the late CHS Office Support Associate D. Marcheta McCoy. She also thanked parents, grandparents and guardians for choosing CHS and entrusting the school with their scholar’s education. 

“To my Charter High School scholars, I’d like to tell you you’ve been marked,” said Jeffries. “Your ancestors have marked you with the belief that you are somebody and are designed for greatness. No matter what the data shows, I’m here to tell you a different story. Today, you’re witnessing the Class of 2023 who has accumulated nearly $500,000 in scholarship offers and has been accepted to some of the finest higher education institutions. The CHS team has literally put the mark of ‘Failure is Not an Option’ on you.” 

“I can feel the presence of the ancestors this morning, and I want to again say congratulations to the village,” said SIUE School of Education, Health and Human Behavior Dean Robin Hughes, PhD. “It takes a village who actually loves young people to raise them. Let me quote great theologian (the late) James Cleveland and 

songwriter Curtis Burrell, ‘Nobody said the road was going to be easy.’” 

“Everyone loved on these young people,” she continued. “When it got tough, you got them together. When you got tired, you got yourself together. When you needed support, you called for your backup. To all the family and friends, you give us life and Wakanda.” 

“We don’t want you to stop here,” said Willis Young, CHS board president and former CHS assistant director. “We want you to keep going. Don’t let anyone stand in your way of being successful in life.” 

There are inequities in the system and life that are designed to prevent advancement, warned Brown. 

“I leave you with a few encouraging suggestions,” she offered. “Dismiss the noise about your abilities, reflect on your parents, grandparents, neighbors, chosen family, your Charter School family, donors and our ancestors.” 

During the ceremony, CHS Assistant Director Liza Cummings, PhD, handed out special recognitions. The Meridian Scholarship was awarded to CHS valedictorian Jakailah M. Hardiman. The  W.F. Graebe Scholarship was presented to CHS salutatorian Makel Wells and Terrell Rey, and the Willis Young Scholarship was given to Rickale L. Green.      

“The Graebe Scholarship is for CHS students who have been accepted to SIUE,” said Cummings. “It is renewable for four years and covers the cost of tuition. Selected students have an outstanding academic status and an interest in STEM.”  

A Student Council award also went to Dorian Atkins and Wells, president and vice president of the CHS Student Council, respectively. 

The commencement ceremony included the school’s traditional “Hope Rope” presentation, with senior class sponsors and CHS instructors Bridget Nelson and Johnathan Tate presiding. The “Hope Rope” was initiated by commencement speaker Brown. 

Tassels-Hope Rope

Providing musical tributes for the ceremony was the group, As One, (Gregory and Antoinette Rutherford of St. Louis). 

“We know the Charter High School has served as an anchor for each and every one of you,” noted Brown. “I am reminded of Douglas Miller’s song, ‘My Soul Has Been Anchored in the Lord.’ He says: ‘Though the storms keep ranging in my life. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the night from day. Still that hope that lies within is reassured. As I keep my eyes upon the distant shore, I know He’ll lead me safely to that blessed place He has prepared.’” 

“‘But if the storms don’t cease, and if the winds keep blowing in my life,’” Brown continued to quote. “For many of you, the storms did not cease, and the winds kept blowing. The Charter High School served as an anchor during those turbulent times, and it kept you steadfast, unmovable.” 

“So, despite the pandemic, your capacity for resiliency is a testament to you being here today,” illuminated Brown. 

The graduates included: Dorian Michael Akins, Anthony Terrell Armstrong Jr., Kylee Simmone Batee, Dexitnee S. Crawford, Jimmy Gilmore, Aaquilah Monae Graham, Ayonn Gray, Rickale L. Green, Marean Hale, Jakailah M. Hardiman, Matthew J. Hicks, Jalyl Taylor Hill, Carlos A. Hopson, Adriana J. Lucas, Kiantae Luster, Issac Packer IV, Za’Raih Marnae Palmer, Hosea Person, Yasmine L. Pierce, Jamal Anthony Ray, Terrell A. Rey, Tyreisha A. Schooler, Mya Denise Scott, Charles Christopher Shaw, Christopher Daprinzhaun Shaw, Makel Wells, Kiara L. Williams and Lemondre Wilson. 

The SIUE Charter High School is a school-of-choice for families in the East St. Louis School District 189. The mission of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville East St. Louis Charter High School is to prepare students who are career- and college-ready upon graduation. To achieve this mission, the school and its staff will positively impact the educational and economic lives of East St. Louis, Illinois youth through individualized instruction in core academic subjects, exploration of career interests and aptitudes, assistance in realizing students’ talents, high academic goals, and expectations that graduates will become competitive employees for the 21st century. 

Chris Rhodes
Author: Chris Rhodes

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