EAST ORANGE, NJ — Superintendent of East Orange Public Schools Kevin West had a few choice words for the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Academy’s Class of 2018 at the school’s commencement exercises on Monday, June 25.
“I always tell our students that you can be pitiful or you can be powerful,” said West on Monday, June 25, to the filled school auditorium. “This is my seventh school graduation that I’ve gone to within the last week here in the East Orange Public Schools, and I would be remiss if I didn’t come to one of the best … I wanted to come and congratulate with a capital ‘C’ and commend with a capital ‘C’ our outstanding, brilliant, intelligent, phenomenal, wonderful, amazing Class of 2018 from STEM Academy. Yes, the storm clouds may rise and strong winds may blow, but the Class of 2018 will continue to shine. Continue to do your best, because you are the best. Congratulations.”
Then West asked the STEM Academy Class of 2018 to stand up so he could acknowledge them for their academic achievements throughout their secondary-school careers.
“The reason why I’m doing this is, we’re the community of care and we know that it does take a whole village to raise a child. But you know what, when I go to our basketball games, our track meets, our football games and these kids are winning, everybody thinks everybody’s a champion and they give them a round of applause that would even throw their peers off, it gets so noisy,” said West.
“But you know what? We take kids like this, students like this, for granted. These are our top-performing, these are our cream-of-the-crop students, and I think we deserve to give them the same kind of applause that they did at the football game and basketball game.”
STEM Academy erupted in a prolonged round of applause when West concluded his remarks. When it subsided, he spoke at length about what it means to be an educator and administrator in East Orange.
“This is my 35th year in education. I’ve been a principal for 14 years, a superintendent for seven years and, although I’ve only been in East Orange for 18 months, I can tell you that, in the 35 years that I’ve been an educator and worked as an administrator, this is one of the most outstanding, talented, unique classes that I’ve ever seen,” West said. “I get a chance to get to visit all the district schools and go into the classrooms and look over the students’ shoulders and see what kind of engagement they have inside of those classrooms, and I think that these students, in my 35 years in education, are the most remarkable students I’ve seen thus far. I know you don’t like me calling you ‘the brainiacs,’ but you’re the brainiacs.”
West urged the students to never be ashamed of their intelligence and academic achievements, because they have earned everything they’ve achieved so far.
“These are the cream of the crop, the high-performing students in our school district. They have made it into STEM because they have a unique academic ability and you can go anywhere you want to go,” said West. “But it’s all about the choices that you’re going to make in the next couple of years. You’re getting ready to go to some colleges and some universities that people outside of East Orange weren’t even aware that we could do. And you know what? They said we couldn’t do it and that’s why you did it.”
West also told the class that graduating from high school was just the first step in their journey, and really just the beginning of the rest of their lives, and it’s now up to them to make the right decisions necessary to fulfill their dreams.
“When it comes to adult choices, another choice is either a yes choice or a no choice and you have to sometimes say to yourself: ‘What kind of choice am I going to make,’” West said. “You’re going to get into college and you’re going to be competing with students from all over, not just the state of New Jersey, but globally. You know what you can do. You can outperform those students and you can outshine those students.
“It’s all about making the good choices and, when those people look down at us or look down on us because they look at our ZIP code and think that we don’t have capabilities, I want you to learn to always strive to your fullest capabilities. I also want you to make sure that, when you work and talk with these people, when they begin to put you down, take those lemons and turn them into lemonade. Take those obstacles and turn them into opportunities. But also remember when they ask you, ‘Oh, you’re from East Orange what do you have to bring to the table?’ Tell them you bring the whole table.”
STEM Academy Class of 2018 valedictorian Frantzeska Barron said that’s exactly what she plans to do next year at Princeton University, thanks to the full academic scholarship she has earned. She said will continue that when she graduates and begins her career on Wall Street.
“I’m a senior at STEM Academy. My favorite subjects are in that field. I love math. My favorite subject is math,” said Barron on Wednesday, June 20, at the Bowser School fifth-grade graduation, where she served as the keynote speaker. “When I was 3 years old, before I came to this school for pre-K, my mom home-schooled me like really hard in math, like really in-depth on like the second-grade level, so it was really crazy, so I really got interested in math.
“I always loved numbers. I like AP calculus and all that lovely stuff. I hope to maybe become a Wall Street analyst or a market researcher at a company or something or work at an investment bank. But no matter where I go or what I do after graduating from STEM Academy, I will always have East Orange and STEM Academy in my heart.”