Last week we had the pleasure and privilege of attending our middle granddaughter’s graduation from a Chicago public magnet high school. The ceremony was held at the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place in Chicago because the school auditorium was too small for the class of over 450 and all of their supporters. The event was lovely if long, and we especially enjoyed seeing a certain young woman prance across the stage with grace and confidence to receive her diploma. The class stats were mind-boggling: every student was headed to a four-year college, and they’d logged countless volunteer hours in the community, won numerous academic and athletic championships, and earned $56 million in scholarships! Memorable and impressive, to be sure. That’s part of the package of a top-notch magnet school.
The part we didn’t anticipate happened when the Special Education students walked across the stage to pick up their diplomas and certificates. Part of the mission of Whitney M. Young Magnet School is “To give students with disabilities the same high school opportunities as their non-disabled peers.” In addition to a sizable faculty and staff, the school has a Best Buddies program that pairs regular and special ed students. Some of these students could not make it across the stage without physical support; a couple had trouble following the directions. But each and every one of them received the same response from the audience of parents, friends, and peers: loud cheering and applause with great gusto. This is a truly inclusive community where high-achieving students whose academic success is often a given appreciate and celebrate the success of those who have overcome obstacles to be able to march across that stage. Their genuinely joyful response was uplifting.
When I commented on it, I was assured that those who have attended multiple Whitney Young graduation ceremonies experience that every year. Being part of that kind of school culture, with genuine inclusion, prepares students to work and live with others regardless of their circumstances. It gives me hope for the future.