Student Voices Shine in Norristown’s Virtual Class of 2020 Commencement



Valedictorian Jocelin Lai and Salutatorian Nicole Henry use their platforms to speech up about injustices in the world they and their graduating classmates are entering.

Gabrielle DeFrangesco, Editor-in-Chief

2020 is only halfway through and is already turning out to be an eventful year, but it is also the year in which Gen Z’s are stepping up and raising their voices to be heard. Young people have been starting movements and taking stands across the world, and this theme of student voices would become a big part of the Norristown Area High School 2020 Commencement.

With in-person graduations canceled, Norristown Area High School held its first virtual commencement last Thursday. Due to the restrictions put in place around the coronavirus, graduation couldn’t be held in its traditional way with a packed auditorium and  graduates walking across the stage, but the Norristown graduation committee was able to put together a memorable and worthy production nonetheless. Going digital was a very difficult decision, but this was the safest way to keep everyone safe and healthy.

The ceremony premiered live on YouTube at 1 pm, the same time graduation starts every year. Once the ceremony began, the live chat went crazy with family, students, and NASD staff congratulating the class of 2020. NAHS Principal Edward Roth, Roosevelt campus Principal Dr. Carla Queenan, Superintendent of Schools Christopher Dormer, and School Board President Shae Ashe all delivered traditional speeches to the Class of 2020, congratulating the over 400 graduates and wishing them well in the future. 

With the theme of this year’s graduation centered on student voices, the speeches from administrators were relatively short. Principal Roth used his own speech to highlight the voices of many students of the graduating class, sharing their stories and memories, as this day was about them. 

With the current healthcare crisis, videos of police brutality, and the coronavirus pandemic, many people have been speaking out on social media and in the streets, but salutatorian Nicole Henry and valedictorian Jocelin Lai took their messages to graduation. In her speech Henry said she did not originally prepare for this kind of farewell, but after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, she decided that this was as good a time as ever to speak up toaddress racism and police brutality. Calling out the structures in place that keep white people in power, Henry urgently said, “America does not need to be this way. We can do better.”

Henry shared an anecdote of a conversation she wad with an adult who claimed that police brutality doesn’t happen that often, and she took it personally. “I was offended that this man did not acknowledge that I am part black,” she said in her speech. “I was infuriated because he was blind to the severity of police brutality. At the time Henry didn’t say anything, but with her current platform on the auditorium stage, she expressed that this is her time to speak, and speak she did, offering both the symptoms of the problem and its solutions.

To conclude her speech, Henry called on her graduating class to be the ones to make a better world. “We do not have to live in the world they imagined for us,” Henry stated. “We can build a new one.”

Lai followed  Henry’s speech by addressing her own perspective on clear racism in her own world. She had a personal connection to her speech about the Model Minority stereotype that burdens Asian Americans. She explained how Asian Americans are stereotyped to set an example of academic achievement for others. “While this may not seem too bad, we are also stereotyped as weak, docile, and complacent,” she said.

Lai went through an experience with racial slurs and blame for the global pandemic, a dangerous trend that started this year that unfortunately many Asian Americans can relate to.

Although she too was a victim of racism, Lai brought up the topic of privilege and in society.  “I can walk through the halls of Norristown without a pass and not get stopped yet others are given detention for the same offense,” she said. People don’t realize and see that there are implications of privilege. She spoke about how to not turn a blind eye, we have to use our levels of privilege and listen to others’ experiences. No one should be silent in this day of age, and that this is the time to speak up. “We are the people who are responsible for writing these next few chapters and future history books.”

After both speeches, NAHS assistant principals Mr. Ernest Smith, Ms. Jodi Dunston, Mr. Ernest Smith, and Dr. Detrick McGriff announced awards to academic achieving members the class of 2020, and the top 10 of the class was announced. Lai, Henry, and Tyeirra Lynch took home the top honors. After the administrators delivered their speeches, Mr. Dormer introduced the final part left in the ceremony that so many patient families and friends waited for. The graduates didn’t get to walk to the stage but David Fazzini and Lindsay Martin did the honor of reading off a list of all names that consist of the class of 2020 graduates alongside the senior portraits of each student.

As emotions were running high, the virtual graduation came to a close and the class of 2020 finally graduated high school. The Wingspan wishes the class of 2020 good luck in the future as everyone will succeed in their own ways. The Class of 2020 made an impact on many people and will surely be missed. Congratulations and good luck graduates!