Renew Accelerated High School in New Orleans had its first official high school graduation. Last Thursday night we sent 18 students out of the auditorium (marching to a drum line!) with something too many people in New Orleans don’t have: a high school diploma. As I have been informed by my school leader, forty percent of our students have their own children, and 60% of our kids have been previously incarcerated. Many of our kids came back to school after dropping out. For our students, graduation is no easy feat.
One boy who graduated works the overnight shift at McDonald’s to take care of his parents. One girl brought her infant baby boy with her to graduation while her sister watched her other 2 children. Three children. One graduate handed me her open purse to hold during the ceremony saying, smilingly, “Don’t smoke my Kool’s.” The girls all teetered in sky high heels. One grad’s mama showed up with a mohawk and a homemade shirt that said “She Made It” on the front and “Kiki” on the back. She also brought a gym whistle and blew it liberally. The stories go on and on.
New Orleans is a land of powerful firsts. Like the first time I celebrated Mardi Gras, or the first second line parade I joined, or the first time I had a fried catfish poboy from Domilese’s, the first high school graduation was mind blowing. It started so powerfully with a drum line. The afternoon came to an end as I sat alone at the back of the auditorium changing a poopy diaper of a graduate’s infant on my lap. He locked eyes with me as I whispered over and over to him, “Your mama graduated today. You are so proud of your mama.”