When Ron Jones, assistant principal at Quander Road School, called Admiral Barry C. Black and asked him to speak at their graduation, Black readily agreed. After all, Black, who is now the Chaplain of the United States Senate, attended Oakwood College with Jones.
Black has spoken at several graduations during the past few weeks, and before the graduation started, he said, "I have a love for young people. I have a particular affection for those who face odds and for those who must struggle."
As an alternative school, Quander Road's students face their share of odds, yet they have persevered despite those odds.
"I've been with them for four years and have seen these students do a lot of growing," said Teresa Vance, instructional assistant at Quander Road. "Some make some major changes."
Black speaks from experience, growing up in Baltimore as the son of a female-headed household with seven siblings and an absentee father.
In his speech to the class, Black said, "If anybody would have predicted [back then] that I would be a two-star admiral and the 62nd Chaplain of the United States Senate, they would have said, 'You did indeed inhale.'"
Yet, despite Black's upbringing, he went on to earn two doctorates and three masters degrees. He believes in the value of education, and said, "I think school is a starting block. It's appropriate that we refer to graduation as commencement; you must become a life-long learner."
AT THE GRADUATION CEREMONY, Principal Bill Files welcomed the guests and introduced special guests Kitty Porterfield, director of communications for Fairfax County schools, Susan Knecht, principal, Burke School; Dr. Calanthia Tucker, Cluster IV director and Janet Oleszek, Fairfax County School Board member; Dan Storck was en route to the ceremony.
"This is such an exciting time," said Files, in his speech to the graduates. "Many of these students will go on to college or the military. I am proud of them for getting to this point."
Todd Patrick then awarded three scholarships from 7-Eleven to Marlene Gamboa-Roca, Danny Shughrue and Edgar Sorto.
Jones said to the graduates, "I would like to encourage you to keep on striving to reach milestones. Don't let this be the end."
Black opened his remarks by saying, "I want to talk to you briefly about succeeding against the odds. I was told that it couldn't be done. I challenge you to believe you can accomplish your dream."
He went on to talk about psychologist William James who said that most people only use 10 percent of their intellectual powers.
"That means that 90 percent is going to waste," Black said. "Thomas Edison said, 'Genius is one per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration." If you work hard enough at anything, you can achieve it."
Following Black's comments, Files and Stephanie Sylvester presented the seniors with their diplomas. Candace Garrett then showed a senior slide show, after which students made remarks and recessed to the tune of "I Gotta Believe" by Yolanda Adams.