On June 10, Thurgood Marshall Academy celebrated seniors’ academic success and applauded their 100% college acceptance rate during the 12th annual graduation ceremony. More than 800 guests, family and friends, and faculty and staff gathered at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church to honor students who were awarded nearly $6 million in scholarships. Collectively, the Class of 2016 applied to more than 250 colleges and universities across the country. After breaking TMA college-related records, the group of 70-plus graduates have proven to be true ‘LIVING LE6ENDS (Living Legends)’, a name chosen by the seniors to represent their class.
The day began at the lower level of the church where seniors were steaming their robes, figuring out which side of their caps the tassel belonged, and taking selfies with their favorite teachers and peers. Promptly at 10am, Ms. Stewart, 12th-grade Dean and Director of Student Affairs, assembled the class for the last time, instructing them to line up behind this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian, Erica Foster and Daynna Stewart respectively. Erica and Daynna, who are both members of the National Honor Society, led their fellow graduates in the sanctuary. They were greeted with whistles, horns, personalized signs, and a roar of cheers and applause as they filed in two-by-two.
The program began with Mr. Pohlman’s, TMA’s Executive Director, opening remarks followed by candid speeches by Erica and Daynna, and an emotional account from Taylor Middleton (TMA ’12), who gave the Almuni Address and recently graduated Summa Cum Laude from Syracuse University. Councilmember LaRuby May, a longtime supporter of TMA, also spoke at this year’s graduation and called the Class of 2016 “The Greatest,” a reference to Muhammed Ali’s legacy. She encouraged parents, mentors, and educators to play a role in ensuring each student remains “great” by holding them accountable and supporting their goals.
Mr. Mitchell, TMA’s Director of College and Alumni Programming, had the pleasure of acknowledging every student who received a scholarship during the Special Awards Presentation. Shawná Lenoir-Harris, who will attend Elon University in the fall, was awarded more than $1 million in scholarships. Some of her awards include the Beat the Odds scholarship from the Children’s Defense Fund and a slew of private scholarships from organizations that were impressed by her community service efforts, academic excellence, and perseverance to succeed despite the challenges she faced.
Shawná’s story is like most TMA students who reside in East of the River communities, neighborhoods where the graduation rate is among the lowest in the District. However, TMA graduates continue to perform well academically and go on to graduate college at rates five times higher than their neighborhood peers. In addition to preparing students to succeed in college, TMA also provides students with the resources they need to engage in democratic society and make a difference in the community.
Jenner and Block, a TMA law-firm partner that helps to reinforce the school’s unique law-theme curriculum, surprised four graduates with a scholarship for $1600. The scholarship was created in memory of a Jenner and Block employee who embodied generosity and who was inspired by individuals who give back to society.
While graduation was the last time that the Class of 2016 will convene as a group, Mr. Pohlman was sure to invite every student back to TMA with hopes that they will share how they are excelling in college and beyond. “No matter what happens after TMA, there will always be a group of teachers and staff who are rooting for you and who will support your endeavors even after graduation,” he reminded them.