EAST ORANGE, NJ — After a tumultuous year of uncertainty, fear and virtual lessons, East Orange Campus High School celebrated its resilient Class of 2021 at a commencement ceremony at Paul Robeson Stadium. On June 23, a sense of accomplishment, pride and new beginnings were felt by all 365 graduates and their many family members, who packed the stands and cheered as graduates crossed the stage, ending this chapter of their lives.
There to take part in this moment and bid farewell to the graduates were EOCHS Principal Willie Worley, Assistant Principal Christina Jaquez, East Orange Mayor Ted Green, senior adviser Erica Rogers, GrassROOTS Community Foundation founder Janice Johnson Dias, Assistant Principal Monikk Gray, Superintendent AbdulSaleem Hasan, the Rev. Thurselle C. Williams from New Hope Baptist Church, members of the East Orange Board of Education, dignitaries and other faculty.
Heavily supported by her peers and faculty, EOCHS Class of 2021 salutatorian Shamana Joseph, who will be heading to Seton Hall University this fall to pursue a degree in biology, enthusiastically expressed her gratitude to those who helped her get here.
“Wow, this is overwhelming,” Joseph said. “I feel very accomplished and very proud of myself. Graduating today makes me feel accomplished, and I feel like I’ve overcome a great deal of challenges in my life.”
Highly respected by his peers and faculty, EOCHS Class of 2021 valedictorian Juanlooka Jean Pierre-Chelot, who will also be heading to Seton Hall University this fall, plans to pursue a degree in business management and administration. Detailing all the hard work he has done to be first in the class, the valedictorian expressed his pride in accomplishing this feat and leading the graduating class.
“I feel great to be the valedictorian of this class, because, after many years of hard work and struggles, putting the work in class every single day, I’m so happy to be the valedictorian of this great class and to be in front of them,” he said.
Detailing the significance of this moment, the superintendent spoke about the disruption the pandemic has caused, and the resilience and perseverance the Class of 2021 has shown this school year. Hasan also welcomed special guests who had attended the June 22 graduation for the Cicely Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts, including Cicely Tyson’s daughter, Joan Tyson, and Valerie Simpson of R&B group Ashford & Simpson.
“Today we are graduating 365 students from East Orange Campus High School,” Hasan said. “We’re truly excited about this endeavor, because, as you know, we had a pandemic last year and I wasn’t a superintendent last year, but the students didn’t have a ceremony to celebrate their success. So I’m happy and excited this year to actually give them their reward to celebrate their academic success as they graduate high school.
“This year has been phenomenal and also challenging because of the pandemic, but we were successful with guiding our students towards the right path, so I’m very excited,” Hasan continued, saying that attending high school graduations is a humbling experience. “My goal is for all students to achieve their life goals. We always want to motivate our students to achieve certain, specified careers, but I want students to look internally, in their soul, and find out what they want to do, and I want to nurture that. I also want to nurture students to empower themselves. I’m very excited and I want them to achieve greatness. It doesn’t matter where you start from, it’s where you end.”
The mayor also expressed how proud he is of all that the EOCHS graduating Class of 2021 has accomplished.
“We are so proud of our 2021 graduates, who are living proof that hard work, perseverance, and most of all believing in yourself can bring you through the darkest storms and challenges,” Green said. During his commencement remarks, Green left the students with this final thought. “In the words of the late Nipsey Hussle, have faith and less fear. ‘First, get your grind on, then get your shine on.’”
Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman