It’s graduation season!

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If there was ever a principal proud of a graduating class, it was Vincent Stallings.

Stallings has been the principal of East Orange STEM Academy for the past six years—and he couldn’t contain his excitement for Class of 2024.

During his powerful speech, he got offstage and went straight into the audience to continue, where he was met with roaring applause and a standing ovation.
“That’s my mentor,” cheered a student.

“This is a very emotional day for me,” said Stallings. “The reason I’m here is to celebrate these students, celebrate Class of 2024. You can stand in the winner’s circle with anybody at any time.”

Stallings addressed those going into the military.

“Stand up,” he said. “I’m going to thank you for your services right now.”

Then he addressed the young ladies, referring to them as “God’s gift to humanity.”

Finally, he asked the graduates to stand up.

“Shine like the diamonds you are,” said Stallings. “I know how talented, how brilliant you are. The sky is the limit.”

Hashim Garret, motivational speaker and advocate for nonviolence and justice, was the guest speaker. Garret is known for his powerful story of survival and forgiveness.

At age 15, he was a victim of gun violence in Brooklyn, shot multiple times at close range, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

“You are the embodiment of resilience and not giving up,” he said. “You are going to go through difficult times. As many of you are going to universities, please remember to pay it forward. May your journey be filled with success and fulfillment.”

Lawrence Hamm, who unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Robert Menendez, was the keynote speaker.

“This is the day you will never forget for the rest of your life,” he said. “It’s also Juneteenth, a holiday for the emancipation of African Americans, our holiday.”

Hamm continued to speak about the history of Juneteenth and shared that he was accepted into three colleges—Princeton, Harvard, and Yale.

“Princeton didn’t even accept Black people before the Civil Rights Movement,” he said. “Let us fight to expand the opportunities that were given to us.”

Sarah St. Foi, Class of 2024, sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Salutatorian Nennin Toure addressed her classmates as did fellow salutatorian Ariel McCalmon.

“We have so many memories, good and bad that we share,” Toure said. “Despite the hardship, you made it and I’m proud of you for that. Learn to live in the moment.”

“Despite everything, we made it,” McCalmon said.

Valedictorian, Breanna Thompson, had an upbeat message for her classmates.

“It is a journey and your story,” Thompson said. “Let us never forget that while life has its ups and downs, it gets better.”

Andrea McPhatter, president of the East Orange Board of Education, told students to dare to do the impossible.

“Continue to soar,” McPhatter said. “Take time every day to enjoy the simple moments of peace.”

AbdulSaleem Hasan,, superintendent of the East Orange School District, pointed out that the Class of 2024 started high school during Covid.

“We went through this together,” Hassan said. “Congratulations to all and I wish you peace and love.”