To Students, With Love: Congratulations To The Class of 2018!

Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker Campus. The Class of 2018. Our 8th graduating class at our turnaround charter school. While Shoemaker used to be second most violent school in Philadelphia, and likely Pennsylvania, today, our graduating seniors earned over 7.5 million dollars in scholarships and 93% have been accepted to a college/university.

Below is how I said “goodbye” to our amazing graduates. Although, they know, there really are no goodbyes with us. They will always be a part of our community. #ShoeCrew #PUMAPride

Good afternoon. Welcome to the celebration of our 8th graduating class. Before we begin, I would like to take a moment of silence to reflect on the loved ones of our community who are no longer physically with us. Thank you.

Let me begin by expressing our deepest gratitude for the families of these young people. Most of you chose to partner with us six years ago. Some of you more recently. But, you all expressed a high level of trust in us. Although we may have begun as strangers in a community, we had a singular goal – to support our youth as they pursued their goals. We are grateful for your trust, support, and partnership. It is sacred to us. Thank you!

To our graduating class, you have experienced and achieved so much, and yet, you are just beginning. We celebrate you and your many accomplishments. You are scholars, writers, entrepreneurs, and athletes. You are teachers, poets, and mathematicians. You’ve taken courses at the community college of Philadelphia and audited classes at the University of Pennsylvania. You have earned over seven million dollars in scholarships and you’ve started your own businesses. You are nationally recognized chess champions and Philadelphia’s 2017-18 Youth Poet Laureate. You are amazing!

And, while it seems like the world is burning all around us, you give us hope and joy and inspiration.

Our friend, Brittany Packnett, the freedom fighting activist, who was on the front lines in Ferguson after the murder of Michael Brown, came to visit us earlier this year. Many of you heard her speak of the necessity to walk boldly through life with both hope and certainty. When I think about hope and certainty, I can’t help but to think of our beautiful class of 2018.

Many of you are leaving your homes, your school, and community to engage the larger world – a world and an environment often hostile towards Black and Brown people. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but it certainly is something you need to be aware of. But, there is no need to become apathetic, disengaged, or cynical.

You have something beautiful to share with the world. Yourselves, your ideas, your talents, your aspirations, your determination, your creativity.

And, when you encounter those who want to dash your hopes and when folks try to shake your certainty, resist them – even if the person who is trying to undermine you is your own self. Resist. Resist. Resist. There will be people who put you down or try to engage you in nonsense. There are folks who are not aligned to your goals but will be relentless in their efforts to convince you that they know what’s best for you and your community. Resist them.

But, while you’re resisting, be sure to choose what to embrace as well. Embrace yourselves. Embrace those who have your best interest in mind. Embrace your community. Your community is your power. When things look hopeless, look carefully, someone or something in your community will be standing there reaching out to you.


You have been raised to lead and serve your communities. And, you have made countless contributions to your communities. You have volunteered, tutored, attended rallies, demanded fair school funding and gun reform. You’ve studied Malcolm X and W.E.B DuBois. You’ve read, analyzed, and critiqued Hobbes and Locke. Shakespeare and Scott Fitzgerald. You dove into Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Remember there are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity, and courage.

Toni Morrison once said, make a difference about something other than yourselves. You are difference makers. And, I am grateful for you because whenever my cynicism about the world starts to kick in, I need only to reflect on the Mastery Charter – Shoemaker Campus’s Class of 2018 to remind myself that help is on the way. With hope. With certainty. With the audacity and courage that you have shown throughout your lives. Onwards, Class of 2018. Onwards, #PUMAPride. #ShoeCrew, we will always love you.

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.


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