Class of 2019, May You Forever Be Free

During my eleven years as the proud principal of the Mastery Charter Schools – Shoemaker Campus, I had the distinct honor of celebrating nine graduating classes. Below are my final remarks to the graduating class of this beloved school.


“Between goals and achievements are discipline and consistency.” – Denzel Washington

Good afternoon. Welcome to the celebration of our ninth 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!

You already know that we graduate twice, so as you get ready to write your next chapter and ours, remember our ancestor and hero, Mama Mary McLeod Bethune, who in her will said if she had a legacy to leave you, it would be for you to maintain a thirst for education and to serve humanity throughout your lives.

A school is a hub to incubate the ideals and vision of the community. The West Philly community has a historic role in fighting for justice. You are a part of this legacy. You have helped incubate ideas and you have informed your community’s vision for Shoemaker.

I will miss you all tremendously and while I experienced a searing pain when I realized I needed to step down as the immensely proud principal of the Shoemaker Campus, it is with a deep sense of pride and humility that I exit with this group of activists and leaders in the Class of 2019.

Dr Howard Fuller, a hero of mine, said that our purpose is to extend the lines of hope and organization. He said that while we want to win the war against racism and oppression, we should focus on the battles at hand, and to prepare our youth for the battles to come. Racism and oppression will continue to evolve and so must our approaches, our shields and armor, and our tactics and strategies.

To prepare our youth means that we must help them to cultivate the same fire that our ancestors stoked and combine that with the highest levels of literacy, problem-solving, and community organizing. I pray that we have done just that. And, now it is your turn to do that with your new communities, while remaining firmly attached to your roots and your people.

I leave you with seven ideas to hear now and implement later:

  1. Reflect on how receptive you are about the truth you receive from those who love and respect you. Hall of Fame coach, Doc Rivers, said average players want to be left alone. Good players want to be coached. Great players want to be told the truth. None of this only applies to athletes.
  2. Don’t allows frustrations get the best of you. Ali ibn Abu Talib said a moment of patience in a moment of anger prevents a thousand moments of regret.
  3. Being a revolutionary is a higher level than of thought and action than being a rebel. As a youth, I was only interested in being rebellious. It was a while before I realized I could have the same feelings, but I could use my frustrations to be strategic and revolutionary. Be angry about white supremacy, but don’t just react to it with anger, plot and plan to dismantle it.
  4. Speaking of revolutionary, be sure to take care of yourselves and check on your brothers and sisters to ensure they’re doing the same. Taking care of oneself is the best way to be available to take care of others – exactly what our community needs from you.
  5. Recognize you’ll have some haters who won’t want to let you live. Someone once said don’t kill them with kindness, kill them with blindness – sometimes you just have to ignore folks’ madness. Don’t make it your own.
  6. My friend Autumn A. Arnett said the best advice she received as a teenager was, “All you have is your name. Guard what gets filed behind it, be careful what you let people call you outside of your name, because it is the only thing that will follow up for the entirety of your lives.”
  7. Mama Assata Shakur was asked, “What is freedom?” She said:

The way I see it, Freedom is the right to grow, is the right to blossom.

Freedom is the right to be yourself, to be who you are.

To be who you want to be. To do what you want to do.

Class of 2019, you entered the Shoemaker Campus to learn and now go forth and serve. Shoe Crew, we adore you. May you be forever free.

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About the author

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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