If there was a main theme of Rogers High School commencement ceremony Sunday, it was perseverance.
“Deep down we have hit every single brick wall; we’ve been looked down on because we are the ‘poor school,’ but here we are,” said one of two class speakers, Thanh Vy Pham. “No matter what we have, whether it’s honor chords or your medals, it does not define your full success. Because you cannot measure the amount of resiliency this class carries.”
Thousands of community members gathered in The Podium on Sunday for the John R. Rogers High School commencement ceremony.
This weekend marks the first time a graduation ceremony was held at the indoor sports arena, starting with North Central High School’s commencement on Saturday, and finishing with Ferris High School’s commencement on Sunday evening.
Nearly 300 Rogers High graduates, wearing Pirate-purple caps and gowns, received their diplomas Sunday. For many, it was a moment that signified overcoming pandemic-induced distance learning, stereotypes and all the other stressors that come with balancing work, school and life at home.
Principal John Hammil said he is proud of what the class of 2022 accomplished during the past four years. Several faculty members were also in attendance, and Hammil said that’s part of what makes Rogers High a special place: Students and staff build lasting relationships and support each other.
In his speech to graduates and supporters in attendance, Hammil commended their perseverance during the pandemic. He said they embodied the school’s motto, “Familia Sumus,” or “we are family.”
“The pandemic was hard on all of us, but our young were disproportionately impacted,” Hammil said. “We had to send our students home for online learning on that fateful day in March; they had to say goodbye to our family. Our community faced a set of obstacles: a new way of learning, anxiety, depression, loneliness, separation. But instead of giving up, our senior class chose to rise up and fight for their dreams.”
Rogers High School graduates and best friends Jalayla Brown (left) and Sydney Vining pause for a photo by Dawn Phillips Sunday, June 12, 2022, outside the Podium in Spokane, Wash. Phillips is the mother of Jalaya, and she notes that for the next year there will be no books, exams or school for her daughter. (Christopher Anderson/For The Spokesman-Review)
The ceremony featured two class speakers this year, who graduated summa cum laude with an earned weighted GPA of 4.3 or greater. Both reflected on the challenges of attending high school during a pandemic and the stereotypes that come with attending a school in a low-income neighborhood.
“In this room today of Rogers graduates, there are future attorneys, surgeons, Realtors, teachers and so many other amazing things,” class speaker Gabby Harkness said. “And out there is a world full of people, situations and circumstances attempting to belittle you and tell you you cannot do it. But if there is anything this class is specifically capable of, it is embracing mistakes, overcoming failure and achieving greatness, no matter what greatness looks like for you.”
Hammil said The Podium was a great venue to host the ceremony, as students could invite as many supporters as they wanted without having to worry about tickets or seating. They did show up in large numbers, shuffling into the arena while the school’s steel drum band played a calypso version of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Jess Parker and her wife, Eva Hubler, made their way to The Podium to celebrate their daughter Annika Avina. Parker said they enjoyed the ceremony and had a few friends in California watch the livestream of the event.
Hubler said she thought the challenges of learning during the pandemic made Avina more determined to reach her goals and deepened her daughter’s appreciation for the little things when school returned to business as usual.
Avina played trombone in the jazz band and has been playing music since she was in fourth grade. She hopes to be a civil rights lawyer and will be attending Whitworth University on a full-ride scholarship, where she will study political science. She said it was a good fit, as she would like to stay close to her family.
Rogers High graduate Samuel Mitts plans on enlisting in the Air Force. He said learning during the pandemic was stressful, boring and tedious, and he is grateful he was able to have a somewhat normal senior year.
“I’m going to miss the wonderful teachers and staff the most,” Mitts said. “I’m thankful for the teachers who went out of their way to support me and push me to be better.”
Rogers High graduate Jalayla Brown said she will be looking into opportunities to play basketball at the next level, as she spent all four years on the court in the Pirates’ purple and gold. She hopes her classmates, and those who come after, pursue their dreams, “because if you put your mind to it, you can achieve it,” she said.
“I’m just super proud of her,” said her mother, Dawn Phillips. “Even through COVID, and all the other challenges that came up, she worked so hard to get here.”
Rogers High graduate Kenneth Ha said he was glad to have most of his large family there to support him. He graduated magna cum laude, with a 4.16 GPA, while attending Running Start classes at Spokane Community College. He will receive his associate degree after finishing up those classes next week.
Ha has been accepted into the University of Washington on a full-ride scholarship, and will begin classes there next fall. He said he hopes to enter the medical field, possibly as an EMT.
“I feel like there’s a lot of negative stereotypes about Rogers, but there’s a lot of hard working kids there,” Ha said. “It feels pretty good to be done now.”
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