Graduation Day for YouthBuild Newark Class of 2010

PHOTO BY AKINTOLA HANIF

YouthBuild Newark’s commencement ceremony yesterday was filled with testimonials from students who, in the words of graduate Ebony, have become better versions of themselves.

“I would not say that I’m a new person, but I’m an improved person,” declared Ebony, one of three students to share her “story of transformation.”

“I’ve learned to trust people…I have faith in myself and I believe in myself,” she said. “I never would have guessed in a million years that I would be getting my high school diploma today.”

Transformation, both personal and collective, is an essential part of YouthBuild Newark’s mission. Since the organization was founded in 2003, students have inspired others with their narratives of hope and possibility. Yesterday, they also sang, read poetry and performed a rap song.

When the ceremony was over, Re-Entry Director Darrell Price commanded students to “move those tassels!”

They did, and then they threw their caps in the air.

Here are some quotes from the ceremony, which was held at Essex County College in Newark:

“I have to reconstruct before I desconstruct…I am reborn,” original hip-hop lyrics performed by graduates Carlos, Victor, Jeloni, and JaQuan.

Transformation has wrapped its arms around my heavy little heart…I know how to walk on my own…I am what is called inspiration. I am my own inspiration….A change is gonna come,Ashanti, reading her poem of invocation.

PHOTO BY AKINTOLA HANIF

“Everything about me believes that you will succeed in life, and I hope you can grab onto some of that. No matter what you face, you can be anything you want to be. That may sound like a Wheaties commercial, but you really can.” YouthBuild Newark Founder and Executive Director Robert Clark

“I’ve transformed from a child with no direction to a man with many plans,” YouthBuild Newark graduate Ahmad.

“Life has a way of balancing disappointment with hope, emptiness with meaning,” YouthBuild Newark 2009 graduate and Administrative Intern Jamillah, in her “Words of Encouragement” speech.

“YouthBuild Newark culture is…making a change in your home, on your block, in your hood, in your community,” Case Manager Omarr McAffe, presenting the YouthBuild Newark Culture Award to graduates Ebony, Derrick, Quadeer and Earlie.

“Before I came to YouthBuild Newark, I was incarcerated in mind, body and spirit…If I never came to YouthBuild, I believe I would be in prison or just another statistic. I can say now without hesitation that I’m a man who is proud to be myself today,” YouthBuild Newark graduate Kayseem.

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