Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: Celebrating our Titans Class of 2021!

Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: Celebrating our Titans Class of 2021!
Dr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)

As the Titans Class of 2021 prepares to turn their tassels, there is much to celebrate.

Graduation, which has origins that date back to the 12th century, is a rite of passage for the hard work students have put in throughout their years of primary, middle and secondary education. It also marks the transition from adolescence into adulthood, where students must decide what comes next.

The 850-plus graduates will attend 196 different colleges and universities to study toward various careers, join the military, attend trade schools, work to support their family or take some time to determine what comes next. Whatever their path may be, we know our students are prepared and have the tools necessary to discover and accomplish their dreams.

They say, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and we know the Alexandria community plays a significant role in leading our youth in positive directions. The importance of the people around any child, including families, teachers, staff, caregivers, coaches, employers, city leaders and community advocates, all add building blocks of support when it comes to establishing values, responsibilities and life lessons.

It also encompasses how we care for our community members through practices of equity and inclusion, social, emotional and academic learning, as well as providing ongoing support for students and families experiencing food, healthcare and housing insecurities. Together, we have brought these fine young adults to this point in their lives.

The community also takes on other roles, including one of our most prominent advocates for students, The Scholarship Fund of Alexandria. For years, SFA has brought thousands of local Alexandrian businesses and individuals together to provide financial support for ACPS graduates to pursue higher education through scholarships. This year, our community came together to provide 183 students with financial scholarships that average $12,000 per student. A handful of students earned the highest award of $40,000.

On June 12, the community will cheer on and celebrate the Class of 2021 as they walk across the stage, receive their diplomas, move their tassels to the left and toss their cap in the air. And, I must say, our students deserve this in-person recognition.

This class is the only senior class in history that spent part of their junior year and their entire senior year navigating a dual pandemic of COVID-19 and racial unrest. Only three-quarters of the way through their junior year, they were thrust into virtual learning and lost all social interactions that most juniors and seniors experience, including homecoming, prom, athletics, theater, music – and simply interacting in person with their teachers, coaches and peers. These are the things students remember from their high school years, but the Class of 2021 has a different story.

This class has taken on big ideas and challenged long-standing beliefs and traditions. They are some of the first students to speak out on racial injustice by approaching administrators and the School Board about changing the name of their school – named after a segregationist. They wanted change. They called it, they challenged it, and today we are proud to say that their voices were heard.

On July 1, 2021, T.C. Williams High School will officially become Alexandria City High School. They have left an indelible mark on the City of Alexandria and the next generation of students who learn within these walls. We thank you, Class of 2021, for speaking your truth and being leaders in your community.

We invite the community to celebrate the last class of graduates to have the name T.C. Williams High School inscribed on their diploma, and yet played the most prominent role in changing the name: the Class of 2021.

Acknowledge them for their inquisitive nature, their diversity of thought and for their contributions to realizing racial equity and driving change in our community. We cannot wait to see where they go from here.

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.