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By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – Motivation to excel in school was never a problem for Amber Minott; however, there was a few month period this school year when the Poughkeepsie High School senior lost her focus and questioned her priorities.
“From October through December of last year, it was hard for me to stay motivated; the struggle was very real, as my mom was a nurse, and seeing all the stress she went through during the Pandemic was hard as well as my own not leaving the house at all and learning remotely,” recalled Minott. “However, one of my teachers talked to me, making me realize how important it was to get back on track, and I’m just so grateful for that, and so much more, such as being able to be together with my class and have one graduation all together.”
Minott, who tallied a 99.80 grade point average and earned Salutatorian status during her Poughkeepsie High School tenure, was also a part of the school’s indoor and outdoor track teams, Treasurer for the Yearbook as well as a National Honor Society member. The proud daughter of Jamaican immigrant parents, Minott is headed to the University of Albany, intending to major in Biology in the fall. Like so many of her classmates, Minott endured and overcame a host of unique challenges during this past school year. Whether it was attending classes remotely, navigating methods of dealing with social isolation from peers, constant uncertainty about the future or grieving loss of life from those claimed by COVID-19, each of the graduates developed integral lifelong skills, such as; fortitude, perseverance, flexibility and creativity, making Thursday night’s 149th Commencement Exercises even more priceless and memorable.
“Being able to graduate in person and see my classmates in person is the very best part of all this,” said a wide-smiling Micvick Tangunu, Valedictorian, tallying a 101.02 GPA, who captained the Varsity Volleyball and Softball teams, was Secretary of the Yearbook and a member of the National Honor Society. “I was doing virtual learning since the Pandemic began, and had to be very disciplined, organizing my time, and as a result, feel much more prepared for college.” Headed to Northeastern University with a major in Chemistry, Tangunu added, “Poughkeepsie High School is special because of its diversity; you get to meet a lot of people from different backgrounds and understand them which really prepared me for life.”
Those authentic variables presented by the Pandemic as well as unique flair of PHS were alluded to by all of the dignitaries who spoke at the Commencement. Whether it was School Board President, Dr. Felicia Watson; Senator, Sue Serrino; Mayor, Rob Rolison; Superintendent Dr. Eric Rosser, or PHS Principal, Kelleyann Royce- Giron, each delivered words laden with genuine pride in the graduating class as well as entire City of Poughkeepsie School District and community during these trying times.
“Anything is possible,” said an energetic Rolison as he addressed the Class of 2021. “Just remember about this last year: It’s not about what you didn’t do, but what you were able to do.” He added, “I’ve learned many things throughout my life, but one of the most important lessons is that we need each other.”
And it was the evening’s guest speaker, Robert Johnson, a 2012 PHS graduate, now the Director of Multicultural Affairs at his Alma Mata, Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, who symbolized that very importance of needing one another. Returning to his roots, Johnson described the moment as “full circle.” He also relayed all of the vital lessons of survival he mined from his Poughkeepsie High School days, reminding graduates of something still more pivotal: faith. Using the word as an acronym, Johnson spoke of its letters representing; fear (not being afraid of it), awareness (of those around you), inspire (others), transform (willingness to change) and hungry (in pursuit of goals), all elements to building character and purpose. The proud alumni, who is presently seeking his second Master’s Degree, and focused on mentoring students who come from similar backgrounds as PHS, then offered to the PHS Class of 2021 a couple of the biggest lessons life has taught him.
“Treat others as you want to be treated, and leave things better than you found them,” said Johnson. “If you can do that, you will be successful.”
He then ended with two final words, “Be legendary.”