While most schools in the county sat fairly quiet Friday, Briar Woods High School was busy with grinning graduates carrying diplomas and proud parents toting balloons.
The school hosted the annual summer commencement ceremony, honoring 39 seniors from 14 high schools who fell short of the required credits to graduate in early June, but successfully completed the needed courses in summer school.
“I feel like I’m starting a new life,” said Ali Almetwali, who graduated from Potomac Falls High School.
Gripping his diploma, Almetwali explained how he’d completed classes at several schools to reach this point. He first studied in Iraq, where he lived until he was 13 years old, then in Fredericksburg, then at Riverside High School in Lansdowne, and finally at Potomac Falls High School.
“That was a lot of work for this,” he smiled and held up his diploma. Almetwali will attend at least one last school before it’s all said and done. He’d like to study at George Mason University and pursue a career in IT.
For Loudoun County High School grad Cole Eisner, “Today is the end of an era, really.”
He’s attended Loudoun County Public Schools for the past 13 years. He was a few credits shy of graduating with his class in June. “It’s a shame I couldn’t graduate with the rest of my class, but I’m happy I could still get this sense of closure.”
But he said he has no regrets. “I actually enjoyed summer school and learned a ton. The teachers were great.”
Summer School Principal Calvin Adams said it was one of the best summer sessions he’s been a part of.
“It’s a testament to the kids, who knew what they needed to do and worked hard to reach their goal,” he said. He also commended the teachers for giving up time during their summer break to teach summer school.
Addressing the graduates during the commencement ceremony, Adams said, “You’ve made it. It’s been a long process but you finally reached the finish line. Enjoy today. You deserve it.”
The commencement’s keynote speaker, Public Information Officer Wayde Byard, told the graduates what he’d learned during a recent trip to San Diego. He was there for a conference, but the best lessons came from three Uber drivers he met while traveling around the city.
One came to the U.S. from Mexico to provide a better life for his family; another was a man who pressed on after losing his business; and the third was a woman who was initially brought to the U.S. as part of an arranged marriage to a much older man. The woman eventually got out of the marriage, set out on her own, and is now married to a man she loves.
“Don’t let your life be dictated by your circumstances. Have the courage to change it,” Byard said. “… And the best advice I can give to you is this: call an Uber. Talk to the driver.”