South Lakes High School (SLHS) walked a reported 565 graduation candidates at its Commencement Ceremony, moderated by Senior Class Officers and held at W.T. Woodson High School on June 4. Following the seniors' procession onto the football field, the SLHS Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, with seniors Patricia Sanchez and Joseth Moreno, presented the Colors.
Vikram Velayudhan introduced the South Lakes chorus. Under the direction of Rita Gigliotti, they sang the Senior Class Song, "Shine Like Stars," words and music by Pinkzebra.
Bethany Burke recalled in her Welcoming Remarks how, since freshman year, seniors counted down the 1,366 days to graduation. "We've laughed, cried, sang, danced, and made strides of maturity and growth alongside one another...Our generation will be defined by the pandemic. Our presence here today, surrounded by those who love us, is proof we not only survived but prevailed," Burke said.
Lily Buro introduced the distinguished guests, among them, Melanie, K. Meren, Hunter Mill District School Board Member and Supervisor Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill).
In the Assistant Principal's Address, Greg Luongo said he tried to find a way to give a speech about the Class of 2021 without mentioning the pandemic but could not. "The period from March 13, 2020, until today will always be associated with and, in many ways, define this graduating class," Luongo said.
Instead of focusing on the negative, he spotlighted the positive. Seniors became proficient in online learning, preparing them for success in a virtual work environment. They strengthened relationships and learned new hobbies. "The tenacity, grit, and determination to get through the pandemic will continue to help you through the future," Luongo said.
Molly Shapiro introduced Student Speaker, Jordan Burnett who recalled their years at South Lakes, saying no one did it alone. Burnett thanked many and said, "Remember your time at South Lakes as you disperse into the real world because once a Seahawk, always a Seahawk."
Matthew Castillo introduced Principal Kim Retzer. "I am proud of you for how you have been there not only for each other but for the grace you showed your teachers who faced a huge challenge in learning to teach virtually...In a world where understanding and empathy are not always at the forefront, you have demonstrated these traits do exist," Retzer said.
Retzer recognized the150 Honor Graduates, "the most South Lakes has ever had," and the graduates who committed “to serve our country."
Before naming the Bruce Butler Leadership Award recipient, Retzer announced the four faculty-chosen nominees, those seniors who best exemplified scholarship, leadership, and service. None knew the faculty nominated them. Retzer said, "Please stand...Ayesha Abdullahi, Carter Berg, Olivia Bond, Zea Nims. I am proud to announce the winner of the 2021 Bruce Butler Leadership Award is Ayesha Abdullahi."
According to Retzer, Ayesha was an active member of many organizations and programs. She tutored younger students and spearheaded a mental health awareness campaign for families and youth. "Ms. Silton, AVID teacher, said it best: 'Clearly this is a young woman prepared for life beyond high school and continues to seek ways to make a difference in her community,'" Retzer said.
Heather Thomas, Director of Student Services addressed Principal Retzer and certified the Class of 2021 met the graduation requirements and declared them eligible for graduation from South Lakes High School. Counselors called out names for the dissemination of diplomas.
Afterward, Retzer said, "By virtue of the authority vested in me as Principal of South Lakes High School, by the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the governing regulations and policies of the Virginia State Department of Education and the Fairfax County School Board, I hereby confirm that the Seniors of the Class of 2021 whose names have been presented to me, are now graduates."
View the South Lakes High School Class of 2021 Commencement video online at http://boxcast.tv/view/south-lakes-updated-998522.