New MPS graduates reflect on how they stayed motivated during pandemic, virtual school
About 3,500 MPS seniors graduated from high school this week.
The class of 2022 were sophomores when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered schools. MPS leaders made the decision to stay virtual for most of their junior year.
At the graduation ceremonies, students reflected on everything they went through to stand on the commencement stage.
On Tuesday morning, Milwaukee Marshall High School graduates in royal blue gowns walked down the center aisle of the UWM Panther Arena. Pomp and Circumstance and the cheers of family members echoed in the stadium.
Valedictorian Jaden Bandy congratulated his classmates for their perseverance.
"Although the time we had was stolen and cut short due to COVID-19 and we spent a year virtual, we made up for lost time by making decisions to advance our futures," he said.
Bandy thanked three people by name who pushed him to think about his future.
"Without your guidance, support, occasional hugs, and lending of ear, Eagle Nation would not have the opportunities afforded to us this academic year," Bandy said. "We often hear you say, 'You’ll thank me later.' Well, this is your later. Ms. Seay, Ms. Beckley and Ms. Thompson. This is your thank you. Thank you."
Those are the names of three school counselors at Marshall. Parice Beckley is one of them. She worked with Bandy on college and scholarship applications. Now, he’s going to Milwaukee School of Engineering on a full ride.
"When I first met Jaden [Bandy,] he dodged me for the first semester. He dodged me," Beckley said. "But then once I was able to finally able to get my grasp on him like, 'Hey, let’s sit down and talk,' the relationship bloomed and just watching him achieve this level of success with his speech, with his scholarships, is truly inspirational."
Beckley runs the college and career center at Marshall. She said being virtual during junior year set back students’ planning.
"Typically you see in college access, junior year, we’re focusing on the ACT, looking at colleges, having them start early their college essays," Beckley said. "The pandemic really took out a year of preparation for students to get them ready."
Bandy said that year of virtual school was difficult. He originally wanted to graduate high school in three years, but that didn’t happen.
"It took a really big mental strain to persevere through that time," he said.
MPS spokesperson Earl Arms said graduation data for the class of 2022 isn't ready for public release. High school graduation rates took a hit last year, with MPS' four-year graduation rate dropping from 67.4% in 2020 to 63.8% in 2021.
Another Marshall graduate, Kiela Phillips, said she worried about graduating because of her struggles junior year.
"COVID-19 messed it up completely," she said. "My grades were so bad. I was scared I wasn’t going to graduate, but I still did it."
Phillips said she worked hard her senior year, when school was back in person. Now she’s planning to go to flight attendant school in Atlanta.
"I want more for myself," Phillips said. "We live in Milwaukee, so I want better. I know I’m gonna succeed. So I was motivating myself and my family was [too] to be honest."
Similarly, Rufus King High School graduate Daisha Lafford said it was thinking about the future that motivated her during the pandemic.
"Just the ability to be able to dream and envision a future for me just really got me through the time of isolation," said Lafford, who plans to attend North Carolina A&T.
Lafford is one of 25 valedictorians who tied for the highest GPA at King. She was chosen to give the commencement speech.
"I want everyone to keep rising," Lafford said in her speech. "Keep rising for the class of '23, '22, '25 and so on. Keep rising for your family. Keep rising for your ancestors. And most importantly, keep rising for yourself."
When thinking about what the class of '22 went through, one Rufus King teacher wondered whether the resilience and adaptability they’ve developed through the pandemic will make them even better prepared for the future.
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