EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange Campus High School held its commencement ceremony in Paul Robeson Stadium on Thursday, June 23, and according to three of the 340 members of the class, the long-awaited graduation day lived up to all their expectations.
“I’m happy; I’m proud I made it,” said Shaneeyah Thomas, 19, on Thursday, June 23. “I graduated. I’m making my family proud. I’m just excited today. Today is a good day for me. I’m graduating.”
Thomas said she wants to be a nurse in order to help people. She added that the class all pulled together and helped one another to graduate.
“These are my family, too,” said Thomas. “This class was a good class. Everybody worked hard to get where they wanted to be.”
Thomas said that also goes for her classmate, Ishmael Witter, 19, saying, “I’m proud of him. We made it.”
Witter thanked Thomas for her compliment and for all the support she and other members of the Class of 2016 gave him throughout their secondary school years in East Orange. He said he’ll never forget the friends he made during his public school career.
“Class of 2016: We definitely made it,” said Witter on Thursday, June 23. “We came a long way, from ninth grade until now. We’re here. I’m just happy. A lot of people doubted me. They gave up on me, but I didn’t give up on myself. I’ve got to keep striving for success. Like (Principal) Dr. Jose Aviles said, ‘The grind ain’t over.’”
Several members of Witter’s family were on hand to watch him walk across the stage in Robeson Stadium and receive his degree from East Orange Campus High School Principal Jose Aviles.
Graduate Rontavious Donaldson, 18, said graduating “feels good because I know I did something for myself,”on Thursday, June 23. “I achieved what I wanted, which was graduating. It’s important, because it can show that you achieved something and you were willing to work hard and persevere to get it.”
Donaldson said he learned the true value of discipline, dedication and the value of studying during his time at East Orange Campus High School. And he said he would take the lessons he learned with him for the rest of his life, no matter where it takes him.
“I felt like, if I didn’t push myself hard enough, I wasn’t going to make it,” said Donaldson. “My favorite subject is English, but I want to work with computers for a living. I want to be a computer engineer. I plan to enroll at Essex County College. I want people to know that everybody’s not the same and it’s OK to just be yourself.”
East Orange City Council Chairman and 3rd Ward Councilman Ted Green was one of the guest speakers at the commencement ceremony and, afterward, said he liked hearing what Thomas, Witter and Donaldson had to say.
“It was definitely an honor to speak at the Campus High graduation ceremony,” said Green on Tuesday, June 28. “Anytime you can go and give a few remarks on behalf of the City Council and the city of East Orange, it’s a good thing. I gave them some words about the challenges and obstacles they still have to overcome on their individual and collective roads to success. The biggest challenge was to let them know that all the people that sat there on the stage with them on graduation day are always going to be here for them. They have the same opportunities as any other racial or ethnic groups; they just have to work hard for it.”
Green said he used the Cleveland Cavaliers’ recent unlikely comeback NBA championship victory against the defending champion Golden State Warriors to illustrate his point about the kind of personal fortitude it takes to be a winner. He said all the members of the Class of 2016 already proved they are winners by making it to graduation day, but now the challenge for them is to build on that success.
“Everybody doubted the Cavaliers,” said Green on Thursday, June 23. “I told them in life you’re going to be down 3-1 but do you give up or do you dig down and fight and play harder? When you’re down 3-1, you never ever count yourself out. One of the speakers talked about Muhammad Ali. He didn’t beat you up with his fists, he beat you with his brains. All our kids are champions, so go out there and be successful. And don’t ever be afraid to get your hands dirty for a while. There’s nothing wrong with starting at the bottom, as long as you make it your business to work, so you can rise to the top.”