For many of these seniors from Wellington High School, it’s the first time they’ve seen their classmates since early last year.
Both McKenzie Henry and Logan Castellanos had been all virtual until Monday.
“This is amazing, there are so many people I haven’t seen in a year-and-a-half,” Castellanos said.
“It’s always good to see friends, it’s been a year-and-a-half almost. This is our little reunion,” Henry said.
Henry started at Wellington High her sophomore year after moving north from Broward. She noticed a lot of fights.
“We were the ones, people who look like me. African American students who had a lot of detentions, referrals, suspensions and I wanted to change that because we’re more than that, we’re creative,” she said. “We are intelligent people and I wanted to showcase that and change the narrative.”
So she wanted to start, at the very least, a social club. But with the help of the principal, it turned into an all-Black honors elective called Blast.
“My biggest accomplishment was Blast, which stands for Black Leadership and Achievement Student Team,” she said.
It’s a support system that cultivates leadership skills and provides mentorship.
“I think that that’s all of our purpose in this world is to leave our mark,” Henry said.
She will start at FAU this summer and transfer for UCF to study computer science.
Halfway through junior year, Castellanos found out she was the valedictorian. It wasn’t her goal initially, but she wanted to keep it.
“I was going in before, during lunch, after school, pretty much every day trying to keep up with my classes,” she said.
During SAT and AP testing season, she suffered a concussion, knocking her out of class for a month. And oh yeah, the pandemic sent everyone online.
“It was especially hard for me because everything switched to online at the end of the year and looking at a computer screen all day with a concussion is not enjoyable,” Castellanos said.
Her valedictorian speech was about mentorship and the important of influence.
Castellanos credits her parents and teachers.
“I really did have great teachers, and that’s another reason why I decided to talk about it in my speech because they gave me all the time I needed and I kind of needed to take a break and step back for me to heal,” she said.
Castellanos will head to Georgetown to study global public health in the fall.
A fitting choice as the Class of 2021 is the first one to graduate with a full year of pandemic learning behind them.
“This pandemic, that’s the first thing and the only thing. We had to learn from home. I would have never imagined that in my life, not to see my friends or not to see teachers. Strange but we got through this,” Henry said.