As superintendent of schools, I get to bear witness to a lot of great things — ribbon cuttings, victory parties, recognition ceremonies.

But of all of my professional duties, the honor of shaking the hand of each Grand Rapids Public Schools graduate is indeed my favorite.

It’s the culmination of everything our team works so hard for — the “launch” of our scholars we’ve helped prepare for the real world. 

As I sat on the graduation stage for each of our ceremonies, I couldn’t help but think of the heights our scholars will soar.

I say that with confidence because I know how much love and care has gone into laying the foundation for success for each of them. 

The dedication of our Grand Rapids Public Schools team combined with the love and support of our scholars’ parents, guardians, and caregivers is a proven recipe for success.

As I looked into the eyes of our graduates, I saw the budding confidence of adulthood and the optimism and hope for a bright future.

Ottawa Hills High School valedictorian Arien McDaniel, Innovation Central salutatorian Abraham Samukai, and CA Frost High School valedictorian Ellery Younts, captured that during their graduation addresses to their classmates.

“We all worked so hard to be standing here today,” Arien said to his class. "We can overcome anything.”

“We are capable of accomplishing anything we set our minds to,” Abraham stated.

“I see success in our future,” Ellery proclaimed in her remarks.

It was wonderful to see our scholars express their readiness to take on the world. It was also great to see their immense gratitude for the experience they’ve had on the way to the graduation stage.

“I am truly grateful,” Grand Rapids Learning Center Graduate Mark Jones, Jr. said of his high school experience during his emotional address to the crowd.

“Let us carry the spirit of Museum School with us knowing that we have the power to change the world,” Museum School valedictorian Gabriela Anna Damiecka said.

“Never forget where you came from,” Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy valedictorian Jaylynne Calderon Monterroso said as she thanked her school staff and her parents.

Our scholars expressed wisdom beyond their years.

“Hard work puts you where good luck can find you,” Vishnu Mano, one of the City High Middle class valedictorians told his classmates..

“It is important to stay true to yourselves… I cannot wait to see you all accomplish your dreams,” said Steven Nkurunziza, Union High School salutatorian.

The eyes of the world are watching the Class of 2023 — the first graduating class that was in high school for the full duration of the COVID 19 pandemic. 

The impacts of “learning loss”, long term isolation, and missed experiences are all real concerns. But when I look at the scholars in the Class of 2023, I see their dedication to achieve, commitment to persevere, and the resiliency to get back on track. 

I stand in admiration of the work our scholars have done — and in total agreement with Grand Rapids Montessori salutatorian Sammy Leggett’s graduation remarks.

“I’m truly proud of each and every one of you and can’t wait to see what you do,” he said.