Diversity celebrated: Spain Park Class of 2021 makes it official

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer

A little rain did not stop the 379 graduating seniors of Spain Park High School from celebrating their commencement on Wednesday evening, May 26.

Before the awarding of diplomas, one of the school’s valedictorians, Yousseff Massoud, recounted his personal experience at Spain Park.

“When I first got into Spain Park High School, I was nervous, like many people, but I had an added layer—my background. I didn’t talk about my Egyptian heritage as much as other people did, or as much as other people talk about their heritage, for fear that I would be ostracized, but I wasn’t,” Massoud said. “What I found at Spain Park was that my perception was completely wrong. The last four years, teachers, faculty members and even custodial staff took their time and learned about my religion even so we could celebrate our differences.”

Massoud went on to cite the school’s recent successes—the theatre department’s achievements of winning Best in Show for multiple years in a row, the boys tennis team winning the state championship and the boys soccer team winning their state championship—as examples of the school’s embracement of diversity.

He added he had experienced diversity within many students, not only in race but also in interests, strengths and even wardrobes.

“This diversity is what makes us stronger,” he said. “When we planned a senior sunrise all on our own or when we packed in the student sections at football and basketball games, that’s what made us great—the strength in our numbers, and the strength in the diversity made us great.”

Prior to addressing the senior class, Principal Peter L. Giangrosso took time to recognize the principals of the elementary and middle schools, as well as the faculty and staff of Spain Park.

He then charged the class to accept the lifelong responsibilities with which they would soon be presented upon graduating.

“In just a few moments when you walk across this stage and receive your diploma, the expectations for your life will change, and you will be asked to do three very important tasks,” Giangrosso said. “First, after the celebration of this ceremony, society will ask you to become an advocate for yourself. No longer will our society expect or even allow your parents or anyone else to be your advocate. It will be up to you to make the decisions, the choices and to live with the outcome of those decisions and choices. You will decide where to live, where to work, who to marry and how to live your life. The responsibility will be solely on your shoulders.”

Giangrosso continued, “Second, there is a generation that came before you, you know, that group of old folks you call parents and teachers. They will ask you to solve the problems they could not solve, they will ask you to right the wrongs that they could not right, and they will ask you to take care of them in their old age.

“Third, there is a generation not yet born that you will bring into this world, and they will ask you to give them the tools, the moral integrity, the work ethic and the education to solve the problems you could not solve, to right the wrongs you could not right and to take care of you in your old age. The tasks before you are great—the tasks before you will be challenging and sometimes seem insurmountable, but you who sit before us tonight will accomplish these tasks, and it is my belief that you will be called the next greatest generation.”

Giangrosso left members of the Class of 2021 with the weighty yet encouraging word that they would “change the world.”

Valedictorian Uzma Issa also spoke, detailing the delicate balance of preparing for one’s future while also trying to savor the moment.

Issa advised her fellow classmates to plan in moderation so that they can experience the best of both worlds.

“If there is one thing I regret it’s not getting to know more of you. I was too busy trying to finish a resume checklist rather than enjoying the little things that make high school an eventful experience,” she said. “However, the pandemic gave all of us an opportunity to reassess our priorities.”

Issa capped her speech with a mini pep-talk: “If you can handle a pandemic you can handle whatever else life throws at you,” she said.

Senior class president James Robert “JR” Lambert said he was grateful for the opportunity to have a senior year and a graduation ceremony, both of which were in doubt at the beginning of the school year.

“I’m not up here to talk about COVID…I’m here to talk about us,” he said. “Us, a resilient group that doesn’t allow hard times to pit us against each other but rather bring us together. Us, a family.”

Lambert left his classmates with three things to remember—don’t be afraid to fail, make sure to get out of your comfort zone, and never take for granted the people who helped you get this far and the relationships you built.

“That’s truly what matters,” he said.

Despite the onset of rain during the presentation of diplomas, the ceremony continued until the last student was called and by that time the rain had been reduced to a fine mist. At the end, the students all threw their caps into the air and celebrated together.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.