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DR. MARK PORTERIE: Graduation 2021 arriving with plenty of support

As we enter the fifth month of the year, May brings a breath of fresh air and celebration for school districts across the country. The month of May also symbolizes the end of grade school for high school seniors.

For graduating seniors, every year, the month of May is considered the last year of compulsory secondary education or high school. Students are often 18 years old and are considered young adults. For our seniors, it is a time of celebration and a time for claiming their independence or what they consider being “grown.”

For the parents of seniors there are many thoughts and feelings. What will be the next step — college, career, military or what? I am a parent and want to acknowledge parents of today who have met and overcome challenges that none thought any of us would have to face.

As we held our children as infants, we dreamed of the great things that awaited in their futures. I think we forget that from Pre-K to 12th grade, our children have had a path organized by parents and the school system that helped them to prepare for each level of their lives.

COVID-19 has pulled us from our normal, busy lives and placed challenges and demands on us like never before. Our students and staff have overcome and succeeded! The majority of our parents deserve praise for the indispensable role each has played.

Port Arthur Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Mark Porterie addresses the class of 2020 at Memorial High School Stadium. (Cassandra Jenkins/The News)

They made sure students were learning even if sitting behind a computer screen. When each of our children were born, we wondered what challenges and adventures were in store. We knew that learning their ABC’s, reading and math were challenges we were ready to tackle.

We watched and some parents trembled as we saw them begin the first day of Pre-K, fall, stumble and learn to become little individuals. As parents, we have carried our students on our backs for 18 or more years, sometimes doubting that graduation day would ever come.

Along with our children, we looked forward to Senior activities including Graduation. No one ever said it would be easy but no one expected the great mountains we would have to climb to make sure graduation day would become a reality.

Who knew that we would be quarantined in our homes and forced to deal with the isolation of virtual learning that our current reality presents? In addition to the challenges that COVID-19 brought, the pause in our busy lives landed a spotlight on the dangers of being youth of color in America.

Our children saw the U.S. Capitol under attack, symbolizing the vulnerability of our cherished democracy. They watched as some politicians demonstrated profiles in cowardice, while others displayed courage under fire.

The pandemic exposed the stark realities of social injustice like never before. We, along with our children, watched the death of a black man on television while a police officer knelt on his neck. Our lives have been changed, for better or worse, because of the slowing down of our nation the past year.

Through it all, our children have taught us how to use Zoom and led the way as our world changed for us all. The young have taken up the mantle of social change and pushed an agenda that all lives matter, no matter the race, color or creed.

As parents and educators, we guided and steered. However, God facilitated his own plan for our children’s lives, as we watched with awe and amazement.

Our younger generation has led the charge for change. Our students have lived through the modern-day lynching of people who look like them. Our parents have had to slow down and help our children make sense of what was happening all around them while still helping them to maintain a sense of security and hope for the future of America.

Parents, this is not the end of your journey. Your “grown” children still require your wisdom to further shape their lives.

There is no way for me to sum up what this class of senior parents has endured. As our children step into the “Real World,” we are anxious about what that means. It certainly isn’t what we imagined, but knowing the strength, ambition, and dedication of the graduating class of 2021, I have no doubt each will make us proud.

Parents, may God continue to strengthen you and give you more energy for the next chapter. Congratulations on a job well done!

Memorial High School senior Malaki Charles rides on the front of his car during the Parade of Graduates in 2020. (Cassandra Jenkins/The News)

2021 Graduation Information:

This year, the Memorial High School/Woodrow Wilson Early College will hold graduation ceremonies on Friday, May 28 at the Memorial High School Stadium, 2200 Jefferson Drive, Port Arthur, Texas 77642, beginning at 6 p.m.

Students and parents will park in the main parking lot. The parents will enter through the gates on the home side. However, they may choose to sit on either side once inside the stadium.

Masks will be required at events on all PAISD properties. Access to the visitor’s side can only be gained once they enter the stadium. PAISD nurses will conduct COVID-19 screenings at each entrance.

Community members will be responsible for maintaining social distancing. There will be several reminders to this effect via the PA system prior to the beginning of the ceremony. Students will be placed in alphabetical order and proceed into the stadium at 6 p.m. sharp.

The seating configuration on the field will ensure that all social distancing protocols are followed.

Dr. Mark Porterie is superintendent of schools for the Port Arthur Independent School District. He can be reached at mporterie@paisd.org.