"We who are strong will reach out and help those who have fallen. We who are brave will help those who have lost their courage. We who are compassionate will wrap our arms around those who feel unloved ..."
The eloquence was rare for a sixth-grader, and eyes grew moist all across the all-purpose room of Meyer Elementary School in Washington, DC. LaKeysha Lewis, a member of our "Young Teens Group" at Sojourners Neighborhood Center, was offering the farewell address to the school on behalf of all her classmates. It was her prerogative as valedictorian of the graduating sixth-grade class.
Dressed in a white dress especially for the occasion, LaKeysha was all poise and articulation. Her classmates were similarly adorned for the splendid affair -- the boys in suits, the girls with stylishly sweeping or braided hairstyles that represented hours of work on the part of patient mothers and grandmothers.
"Pomp and Circumstance" had ushered in the graduates, who walked proudly, trying to keep just the right amount of space between one another and doing their best to suppress smiles that threatened to erupt in giggles. Those of us from Sojourners Neighborhood Center had posted ourselves in the row behind the seats reserved for the graduating class, with a clear view and the opportunity to offer a wave or a wink to each of our young friends as they filed in.
"Lift Every Voice and Sing" resounded through the room once the graduates had all found their places. The salutatorian offered the welcome address, ending with the proclamation that she and her classmates could be "mayor of the city, or a city councilman or councilwoman, a senator, the vice president, or even president." Acknowledging the scourges of drugs, AIDS, racism, and teenage pregnancy, she encouraged her friends to "keep self-respect" and "avoid drugs."