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‘Overcame statistics’: IPS students graduate despite COVID challenges

Students in both green and white graduation regalia stand in an auditorium in front of red theater seats.

Arsenal Technical High School graduates prepare to leave Clowes Memorial Hall following the ceremony on Tuesday afternoon.

Helen Rummel / Chalkbeat

Senior Class President Saul Rodriguez still remembers a speaker he met when he was a freshman at Indianapolis’ Arsenal Technical High School. He said he never forgot her telling his class that, statistically speaking, most of them wouldn’t make it to graduation.

On Tuesday, Rodriguez stood before 412 of his fellow classmates. Tech’s class of 2022, dressed in caps and gowns, looked on from the crowd at Clowes Memorial Hall. Rodriguez chuckled at the story.

Glancing around the packed auditorium, he said, “I can say that we proved her wrong.” 

Rodriguez’s statement drew roaring cheers. The class can dismiss her doubts as irrelevant now, he said.

“You being seated here today shows that not only did we overcome people’s expectations, but we also overcame the statistics as well,” Rodriguez said, “doing so with flying colors.”

As more parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends, children, and cousins arrived, officials asked guests to squeeze together to make room. Cheering supporters crescendoed into a celebration of the moment they had waited years for.

Rodriguez was part of a senior class of around 500 students. He reminded his peers of everything they endured over the last four years: mask mandates, other COVID 19 protocols, remote learning, political protests, and losses of jobs, families, and lives. All affected the class’s education in ways Rodriguez said no one could have expected.

“If I had to compare what we have gone through throughout these last four years, I would say it was like a dumpster fire,” he said.

Now the students are graduating as college enrollment is falling, and talk of a recession continues.

All that doesn’t include personal struggles. 

“There was also adversity that each of us faced that we don’t talk about,” Rodriguez said. 

Graduate Kamickia Weathersby endured hardship while at Tech — and emerged primarily grateful.

She lived unhoused all four years of high school. 

“I know what it feels like to be hungry,” Weathersby said. “And to be homeless.”

On Tuesday she thanked Arsenal Tech for providing a community and a home that supported her. She specifically mentioned Assistant Principal Crishell Sam and social worker Jacquelyn Powell.

Weathersby said she would carry her gratitude long after leaving school. “I love it here,” said Weathersby, dressed in a bright white dress. “If I could do over the past four years, I wouldn’t change anything.”

She said she plans to attend Ivy Tech after graduation and to start a non-profit supporting unhoused people in Indianapolis.

Graduate Sana’a Kirby’s mother died in May 2020. Now, Kirby is determined to go to college, because that’s what her mother motivated her to do.

“I wanted to show her what I could do,” Kirby said. “I could be at my best.” 

Kirby will study at the Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI. 

Cameron Whistler said he struggled with online classes and with the decision to go to college. He plans to attend Marian University. 

Wearing black velvet dress shoes purchased specially for the big day, Whistler said he’s excited now to take on a new challenge at college, and make his own life. He had arrived on Tuesday with his grandmother Elizabeth Cowans, 62. She smiled when thinking about Whistler’s future plans. 

“I’m feeling very proud,” she said. “I’m proud of everything he puts his mind to.”

Helen Rummel is a summer reporting intern covering education in the Indianapolis area. Contact Helen at hrummel@chalkbeat.org.

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