Friday, June 26 was the last day of the 2020 school year for school for NYC public school students. It was a day for all of hard work of the past year and beyond to be recognized.

For many of 2020 graduates of Liberation Diploma Plus High School in Coney Island, Brooklyn, this was a day they did not always believe would come. Liberation is a transfer school, designed to help students who have dropped out or fallen behind on credits, in partnership with the NYC Department of Education.

Graduates leave ready for college or a career. They also leave with a sense of hope and pride. Crystal, the class of 2020 valedictorian, came to Liberation after failing most her classes. She describes herself as “complacent” and without her old passion for learning. “I made a promise to never fail a class when I came to Liberation,” she told her peers. “I failed before, but it wasn’t because I couldn’t learn, but because of the societal pressures and obstacles.” Beaming into the camera, she said, “Congratulations, we did it!”

The keynote speaker of the event was Ashley Sankofa Brown, a former student. She also described herself as formerly “complacent.” Her experience at Liberation helped her, “no longer give other people permission to control me. I can look back at my past and keep going forward towards the life I want for myself.” She encouraged the new grads to keep on pushing, “You are here because you decided to not give up.”

However, the graduation ceremony was bittersweet against the backdrop of a pandemic and the ongoing struggle against racism and police brutality. The student body at Liberation is overwhelmingly young people of color, a fact that Principal Leong addressed directly. “Fight against systematic oppression that has plagued us,” she told them. “Let’s make history together.”

The students, teachers, and families on the call seemed to take these words seriously. Many nodded. They knew that tomorrow there would be new challenges ahead. But as the ceremony came to a close, and the DJ began to spin his tracks, the students, teachers and families stood and danced. As Principal Leong said, “Let’s win. Let’s reverse the system. I know we will, and I know we can.”