While graduation season is always a particularly heartwarming time, I have to say it feels a little more special this year. This year’s graduating class had to endure a school year that was unlike any other, with the pandemic and virtual learning creating what I can only imagine was one arduous senior year. Ahmed Muhammad, an 18-year-old who is the first Black male student to become valedictorian at Oakland Technical High School in California, gave an inspiring speech to his classmates on Saturday highlighting just how much they had to overcome to get there.
According to KTVU, the graduation ceremony on Saturday was the first time that the students of Oakland Tech were able to get together in-person since the school was shut down in March 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Muhammad said that the class of 2021 were tasked with navigating “a completely altered way of life and no template, no blueprint” to tell them how to do it. He described the last year as feeling like “being trapped in a glass jar, our wings banging against the glass ceilings, as we were unable to fly.”
While highlighting how much of a struggle the last year had been, he was also quick to remind his classmates that this wasn’t their first time around the block. “It’s not like we hadn’t been tested before,” he said before recounting all the various struggles the class of 2021 had to fight during their four years in high school.
“In 9th grade, 17 people were murdered in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. Upset and horrified and fed up, we took a stand. Thousands of us led, organized and participated in the walkouts to protest gun violence. Remember being out there in front of the school?” he asked.
Muhammad then reminded his classmates about how the following year they stood with the Oakland Unified School District’s teachers’ when they went on strike. “We went on strike alongside our teachers and protested for fair wages and equitable resources,” he said. “We rallied, we organized, we marched.”
Lastly, he reminded them of last summer, when they marched in the streets to protest against systemic racism and police violence. “Piling on top of the trauma, Black people were being gunned down by police. We marched in the streets in the middle of the pandemic because we’d had enough,” he said. “That summer of 2020, even until now we made our ancestors from the civil rights movement proud. We honor the legacy of the Black Panthers who hailed from our great city, some even from this great school.”
Muhammad was a excellent student during his time at Oakland Tech, earning an overall 4.73-grade point average. In addition to having the books on lock, he was a member of the school’s varsity basketball team, and became an entrepreneur, founding the science education company, Kits Cubed.
So yeah, the kid has accomplished a lot in a short amount of time.
During his speech Muhammad reflected on the fact that he was the first Black male to become valedictorian in a school where Black students make up the majority of the population.
“As some of you may have heard, I recently became the first Black male valedictorian in our school’s history,” he said. “And I want to say something about that. Oakland Technical High School has been around for 106 years. And there’s absolutely no way you can tell me that I’m the first Black person [male] capable of being valedictorian.”
He recognized that there were people who came before him who may have “had the ability, but lacked the opportunity,” to succeed and thrive in the ways he did. He also acknowledged that he wasn’t the only one in his graduating class who was potentially accomplishing a first.
“Some of us here are the first in our family to graduate from high school, the first who will be going to college, the first to live in America,” he said. “We all owe it to the people who didn’t make it, who weren’t as blessed as us to appreciate this position that we are in, and to continue turning imaginations into realities.”
Man, I don’t know where Muhammad is going, but I’m damn sure it’s somewhere great. He’s got me over here feeling all inspired to make something of my life.