With BLM Tribute, Sound School Drive-Through Graduates 77
Sophie Sonnenfeld Photo
Ciara Ortiz Diaz (right) with Principal Rebecca Gratz.
For eight minutes and forty-six seconds, Sound School Valedictorian Ciara Ortiz Diaz read the names of 212 black people killed by police in the U.S.
Eight minutes and forty six seconds is exactly how long Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck before killing Floyd in police custody.
“I spoke for eight minutes and forty six seconds and I couldn’t even finish saying the names of black people who have been murdered because of the color of their skin” Ortiz Diaz said.
Ortiz Diaz and Salutatorian Brianna Lane delivered their speeches over Facebook live Wednesday morning on the lawn where Sound School graduation is typically held. Later that afternoon, the entire class of 2020 returned to the high school’s campus in a drive-through commencement ceremony to receive their diplomas.
Most years the entire class of graduates at the Sound School march down South Water Street together. This year at the Sound School’s pandemic-conscious drive-through commencement for the class of 2020, each graduate got their own march.
Families snap photos of their graduates.
The 77 graduates clad in caps, gowns, and masks walked single-file down the street, elbow-bumping faculty and staff along the way. Over the past week, community volunteers planted flowers and hung up signs along the street that overlooks the Long Island Sound. As the graduates marched, entourages of family members packed in cars, trucks, motorcycles, and even a limousine to cheer and snap photos.
Mara Cicarella, who plans to attend Quinnipiac to study occupational therapy, said she is going to miss her classmates and teachers next year. “I learned what real family is. I absolutely love the bond I have with all my teachers and just how hands-on everything is” Cicarella said.
“I’ll definitely be visiting a lot!”
While at college next year, Ariadna Aucapina said she too will miss her classmates and teachers. “What I’m probably going to miss most is the environment. Everyone’s so friendly and so inclusive” she said. Aucapina earned a full scholarship to University of Connecticut, where she is considering studying engineering.
Noe Carmona said he was grateful for his connections with his teachers. After graduating, Carmona plans to start working on an application to attend New Haven’s Holberton School for software engineering.
“I’m feeling great!” Iain Burke exclaimed after receiving his diploma. Burke said he learned valuable life skills in communication and hands-on work at the Sound School.
Greeting each graduate at the end of the drive-through, Aquaculture and Agriculture Science teacher Kim Workinger waved signs and decorations on top of her neon-green jeep. “I’m sad and happy all at the same time. I’m excited for the kids who certainly persevered, that’s for sure,” Workinger said.
Kim Workinger (right).
Workinger said she was especially happy to see the graduates this year because she hadn’t seen any of the students since Covid-19 struck in March. “They all look so hopeful and I think everything’s going to work out for them.”
“They’ve always been a really resilient and resourceful class and I feel like out of any class they would’ve handled it the best” said English teacher Megan Kooze. Kooze said she and Library Media Specialist Sue Norwood called and texted each other almost every day about how much they missed their students through at-home learning during Covid-19.
Abram Freyle and Enzo walk up to the podium..
At UConn next year, Abram Freyle said, he will miss the atmosphere at the Sound School. “We are very different from any other high school and we have such a small school and small community that we really get to know our teachers” he said. Freyle was joined by his dog Enzo on his march to receive his diploma.
Though Freyle said he sometimes slacked off, he was grateful that his teachers were always there to push him and other students to do their best. “I learned that doing your work really does pay off.”
Ortiz Diaz, who plans to study political science at Yale next year, said the Sound School taught her to explore different passions. One of these passions included learning how to sail and obtaining her boating license.
Another of her passions included fighting for justice. Ortiz Diaz said she and fellow graduates will no longer tolerate the discrimination and systematic oppression of black and brown people, school shootings, climate change denials, harm against indigenous communities, and police brutality. “We are exhausted from living in a world where adults in power who are supposed to protect us continue to fail us.”
Closing her speech, Ortiz Diaz said, “To my classmates in the class of 2020, thank you for being the small light of hope in this world of darkness. Continue to be that small light of hope. It is up to us to confront the hatred and division among this country. Together we can, we will, and we must create a new America.”
Principal Rebecca Gratz said she wants the graduates to make the world a kinder, safer place for everyone. “Every student should feel how I hope they felt here: supported, heard, and valued as humans” Gratz said.
“I hope they all find meaning and passion in life and I know they will.”