Salutatorian Mahir Rahman demonstrated the diversity of Atlantic City High School on Wednesday morning by welcoming graduates and their guests at Boardwalk Hall in some of the more than 30 languages spoken in the district.
“Today is just one achievement of many more to come,” said Rahman, a Ventnor resident who will study business at Yale University.
Valedictorian Sydney Becker, of Margate, who will study engineering at Princeton University, asked the graduates two questions: “How do you define success? What path will you choose to achieve it?”
She said activities students participated in during high school, from athletics to academics and volunteerism, will help define who they will become.
“Each of us has defined our lives through activities,” she said, and quoted writer Maya Angelou in telling her classmates, “You can only be truly successful at something you love.”
Superintendent Fredrick Nickles, who will retire this month after 12 years heading the district, thanked students and staff for helping turn the district around from one on the verge of state takeover to a district that met state monitoring standards this year.
He also reminded the graduates that Atlantic City is known around the world.
“As you go, you will represent every one of us,” he said. “Please make us proud.”
Principal Oscar Torres echoed that sentiment, saying he has talked with Mayor Lorenzo Langford during the year about how to promote the city.
“You have to take responsibility for the decisions you make now,” he told the graduates. “Don’t be influenced to make the wrong decisions.”
Board of Education President Patricia Bailey thanked parents who remained committed to their children’s educations and told the graduates to enjoy their accomplishments.
“Whatever you do, do it well,” she said.
Students Melissa Do and An Van Le presented the class gift, a check for $3,637 to the nonprofit faith-based Hope for Atlantic City, which helps low-income families and immigrants. The group is working to buy a headquarters to house volunteers who visit to work in the city. President David Cohen accepted the check.
The hall echoed with cheers as students received their diplomas, but turned quiet as the family of Darren Holcomb-Tally accepted an honorary diploma in his memory. Tally, 17, was a student at the high school when he was shot and killed in November at a city playground.
Among the special guests at the event was retired Chelsea Heights teacher Barbara Ann Hinksman, who had told her second grade class in 2001 that she would follow them through to their graduation. The former city resident now lives in Tampa, Fla., but said she has stayed in touch with the students and their families. Some moved away, but she said 10 were at graduation. Hinksman had brought some of their old drawings and photos to share.
“I stay in touch with many students, but this was a special group,” she said as she spotted one of them, Radi Tolbert, who approached her after the ceremony to give her a long hug.
“She is my heart,” he said. “She makes sure we stay in school.”
A prominent football player at the high school, Tolbert will attend Mount Ida College in Massachusetts, where he plans to play football.
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