On June 24, Columbia High School and the South. Orange-Maplewood School District awarded more than 450 diplomas to members of the Class of 2022. The ceremony included beautiful renditions of the national anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by the Excelsior Singers/Canens Vocem, recognition for Valedictorian Seth Peiris and Salutatorian Cole Strupp, and thoughtful speeches from the Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ronald G. Taylor, Board of Education President Thair Joshua and Principal Frank Sanchez — all of whom sought to impart final words of wisdom to the departing students.
But the speeches that resonated most with the assembled soon-to-be graduates — and spoke to the moment — came from members of the Class of 2022.
CHS Student Council President Laila Gold outlined the extreme challenges that the students faced through a global pandemic, political strife, and the deaths of Moussa Fofana, Class of 2022, and Cole Longworth, Class of 2024.
“We kept going — a lot of the time because we had to,” said Gold.
Noting the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, announced earlier in the day, Gold pointed to the Class of ’22’s history of organizing and taking action. “I know this is a day of grieving for many of us, but I hope we can turn our anger and sadness into action.”
Phoebe Hill, President of the Class of 2022, also memorialized Fofana in her speech. Fofana’s name was listed in the program and announced along with other graduates to thunderous applause. A seat among the students was left empty in his memory.
“Class of 2022, we would not be seated here today without the love and support of this community,” said Hill. “Together, we weathered tragedy. We gathered to mourn Moussa Fofana. We promised to remember his love for soccer and to never forget his radiant smile. We all worked together to construct a sense of connectivity despite the isolation of online instruction. So yes, we are here today to celebrate our academic achievements. But we are also here to celebrate the strength and resilience of our community and to make our 15 year old selves proud. We did it! Congratulations, Class of 2022.”
“CHS has a long way to go,” said Gold, “but I am confident that we, the class of 2022, are leaving it a better place and as better people. Each and every one of us should feel proud. So thank you to all of the teachers, counselors, administrators, school volunteers, parents, siblings, and friends who got us here, and thank you class of 2022 for a great high school experience. Congratulations to you all!”
Read Hill and Gold’s full comments below.
The following address was made by Columbia High School 2022 Class President Phoebe Hill at the CHS Class of 2022 graduation ceremony at Codey Arena on June 24, 2022:
Good evening. Parents, relatives, teachers, and friends, welcome to the commencement ceremony for the Columbia High School class of 2022. My name is Phoebe Hill and I am the senior class president. It is an honor to speak before you tonight.
In September of 2019, Ms. [Stephanie] Rivera, my US history teacher gave the class an interesting assignment: write a letter to your future self. Ms. Rivera promised she would distribute them to us at the end of our senior year. At the time, I was eager to engage in a one-way conversation with an 18 year old version of myself. I scribbled down my hopes and dreams and pestered myself with endless questions about my social life, academics, and the state of the world. This week, I received the letter. I tore open the envelope and hastily scanned the messy writing. What stuck out most was the end of my letter. I wrote, “I have no idea what’s going to happen, but just know that 2019 Phoebe believes in you. You can do it!”
2019 Phoebe was right. There is no way she could have predicted the events of the next few years. There’s a whole lot of craziness coming her way. We all recognize that the world is not the same as it was when we first entered the doors of Columbia High School. We have a new principal, mayor, and president. Our lives have been forever transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But 2019 Phoebe was right about something else. She was right to believe in her present and future self. She was right to say “You can do it!” Today, we must celebrate all that we have overcome and all that we have achieved.
If I had the chance to speak to 15 year old me, I would say ,“You were right. We can do it! But not without help.”
Class of 2022, we would not be seated here today without the love and support of this community. Together, we weathered tragedy. We gathered to mourn Moussa Fofana. We promised to remember his love for soccer and to never forget his radiant smile. We all worked together to construct a sense of connectivity despite the isolation of online instruction. So yes, we are here today to celebrate our academic achievements. But we are also here to celebrate the strength and resilience of our community and to make our 15 year old selves proud. We did it! Congratulations, Class of 2022.
The following address was delivered by Laila Gold, President of the CHS Student Council, 2021-22, at the CHS Class of 2022 graduation on June 24, 2022, at Codey Arena:
Hello everyone. My name is Laila Gold and I have had the absolute privilege of being this year’s Student Council President. But during the past four years of high school, I’ve also had the opportunity to be so much more. I’ve been a club leader for three years, a tutor, a student, a classmate, and a friend and I know many of my peers have held these roles among a multitude of others. We have made life-long friendships, we have learned about ourselves, our own identities and values, and now, 13 years after those days of struggling to understand words in Kindergarten, we have grown up.
As high schoolers, we have faced unprecedented hardships: school shootings around the country, a mass mental health crisis, political mayhem, a global pandemic, and the deaths of multiple students. Rest in peace Moussa and Cole.
But we’ve kept going, because a lot of the time we’ve had to. We’ve held protests and campaigns, attended, played, and supported each other in games and tournaments, put our hearts into the work we are passionate about, and persevered through a quarantine-inducing pandemic.
Quarantine and virtual school was hard for all of us in one way or another. We were all new to Canvas and other online tools, new to the concept of not being able to see our friends and families without being socially distanced, and new to sitting in front of a screen in our rooms all day, every day, unable to form meaningful relationships with our teachers and peers. For the rest of our lives, we will never trust that a “two-week break” from our schools or jobs is guaranteed to last only two weeks.
Many of us have suffered from severe mental health issues. We have all lost a part of our lives, our teenage years, due to this pandemic. But we have made it out of those extremely difficult days of online learning and this year we have come back stronger than ever, and for that, I am extremely proud of us.
I remember at the beginning of our sophomore year, I helped lead two climate strikes, which wouldn’t have happened without the existence of the Environmental and Students for Justice clubs. I will never forget seeing the crowd of people walking outside of the building. Despite the pandemic and the alienation it caused, we marched again at the end of the year, for racial justice. We showed solidarity for a growing national movement, calling out our school district, towns, and state, and demonstrating the true fervor of our generation.
Two years and some months later, we, the class of 2022, are still showing up, we are still supporting each other, and we are still excelling. Just in the past month, two more walkouts were staged: for gun control and for Roe v Wade. Today’s supreme court decision does in fact go against our constitution, which is meant to promote, and I quote, “general welfare and the blessings of liberty.” I know this is a day of grieving for many of us, but I hope we can turn our anger and sadness into action.
Also this month, chorus, band, and orchestra all put on amazing concerts, all of the cast and crew of Newsies were recognized at the Papermill Playhouse’s Rising Star awards, with 13 nominations and two wins (you guys were snubbed by the way), Sparkle Motion, one of our frisbee teams, won their state finals, and just yesterday, our Infinite Step Team put on an amazing assembly. And I’m so sure I’m missing things because that’s how awesome we are.
Now here is where I have to admit that at the start of this year, I made a bet with a friend of mine that if he scored better in our AP Government and Politics class, he could write a line of my graduation speech. So I will honor that bet by saying this: “being part of something special does not make you special; something is special because you are a part of it.” This place is special because of us.
As cheesy as this all sounds, we’ve made it! We’re graduating! All of the late nights studying, all of the groveling with teachers, all of the struggling with assignments, and all of the times we never imagined we’d make it here- we’re done.
I know most of us are pretty excited to be finished with high school but I hope you can all remember the past four years fondly. I hope in looking back, you can see the humor and the consistency in the chaos. Maybe you’ll be reminded of Mr. Woolard’s morning announcements when you hear the loudspeakers at your future place of work, or maybe you’ll see a broadway musical and reminisce about the shows you saw at CHS. Maybe you’ll hear that a friend of yours was inducted into the Hall of Fame, or maybe you will be that person. Maybe when you see Ultimate Frisbee on the news, you’ll think of your alma mater and your peers who played, and maybe in a few years when you hear someone accidentally unmute on a Zoom call, you’ll recall all of those times your classmates did the same.
Maybe you’ll keep in touch with your teachers and friends and maybe you’ll come visit, or maybe you won’t, but whatever the future holds for you, whatever it holds for us, I hope it treats us well. CHS has a long way to go, but I am confident that we, the class of 2022, are leaving it a better place and as better people. Each and every one of us should feel proud. So thank you to all of the teachers, counselors, administrators, school volunteers, parents, siblings, and friends who got us here, and thank you class of 2022 for a great high school experience. Congratulations to you all!