POUGHKEEPSIE – While rain may have dampened the ground outside Poughkeepsie High School, it didn’t dampen the spirits of the 174 Class of 2023 graduates and their friends and family who packed the auditorium Friday night, June 23, 2023.
Principal Phee Simpson thanked everyone for coming together to “recognize the outstanding accomplishments of the Class of 2023,” and then called for a moment of silence to remember those people who could not be in attendance so that they would be included. She then told the class that they “have the approval, respect and appreciation of everyone” in the building and that the skills they learned at PHS were “crucial to any plan you have in life” and that “The work each of you completed shows to you that nothing is impossible.”
Several speakers, including student board of education liaison Gabrihanna Jones, reminded the class that what they’ve accomplished isn’t theirs alone.
“Don’t forget those who helped you get here. Those who supported you and loved you,” she said.
Superintendent Dr. Eric Jay Rosser thanked the parents, community members, staff and community partners for their involvement in the students’ lives. He encouraged students to “cherish all the memories of being a student in Poughkeepsie City School District. But memories are not just things of the past but they are waiting to be created.”
Salutatorian Kayla Hawkins said friends and family were key to her being on the stage speaking. She pointed out her sister, parents and 90-year-old grandmother who were in attendance. “I love them more than anything,” she said, and then gave sage advice to her classmates which was punctuated by a large round of applause.: “Never surround yourself with anyone who won’t support you. You choose who you take with you!”
Valedictorian Amira Ibrahim continued the theme of recognizing others who contributed to her success.
“To say my mother is the reason I’m standing here today would be an understatement,” she said, relating how her mother left family and the home she loved to give a better life to her. Now, she wants to grow and do the same for immigrants who share her story.
Ibrahim gave shout outs to the teachers and friends who impacted her and closed encouraging the class to “continue to strive for greatness and to make a positive impact.”
Class counselor Franky Perez, who is retiring after 33 years with the district, was called up to speak and met with thunderous applause. He recounted meeting the class when they were in fifth grade and he was a counselor at the middle school.
“You, the Class of 2023 are resilient, capable, worthy and love. I am so proud of every single one of you,” he told them. “Develop your heart, be compassionate. Work for peace and never, never give up.”
Perez spoke in Spanish for a while and then returned to English to pay special tribute to Amara Parker, a student who passed away before being able to graduate. He then presented a diploma, posthumously to Parker’s mother and family, drawing tears and applause from the audience.
Keynote speaker Da’Ron Wilson, who graduated from PHS 30 years ago, kept his talk brief, telling students they need to be able to adapt and adjust through life.
“There are so many talented individuals in your class. You are the future leaders. I want to thank your families for sharing you with us,” he said, reminding students that “you always have a place in Poughkeepsie.”
Wilson left the class with this piece of advice: “In this world, you get what you settle for and the only thing I know that settles is dirt and there isn’t any dirt here.”
PHS’ Class of 2023 had 36 honor graduates – students who maintained averages of 90 or better, each called by name at the start of the ceremony. Naiya Garvin was one of them.
Asked what she was looking most forward to, she said, “I’m excited to see what the future holds for me outside my comfort zone.” She will attend Russell Sage College in Troy and plans to become an art therapist and work in mental health. She said people have the wrong impression of the school. “Poughkeepsie High School gives a lot of opportunities to people. While it may get a bad reputation, the school gave me a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t have had.”
Congratulations, Class of 2023 – you did it!