Class of 2021 Graduation
Congratulations to Albany High School's Class of 2021!
A total of 602 Falcons crossed the stage in a series of seven graduation ceremonies on Sunday, June 27, including Onovu Otitigbe-Dangerfield, Albany High’s first black valedictorian (pictured above).
Albany High School valedictorian Onovu Otitigbe-Dangerfield on Sunday compared her school to fungus – and she meant it as a compliment.
Otitigbe-Dangerfield, Albany High’s first black valedictorian, heads to Harvard University in September. She addressed the 602 members of the Class of 2021 who gathered to celebrate graduation with family and friends at seven in-person ceremonies on the Albany High football field.
Otitigbe-Dangerfield, salutatorian Chai Kam and senior class president Elizabeth Alzawahra spoke to their classmates at all seven ceremonies. You can read the full text of their speeches in the "student speeches" section of this page.
Fungus, Otitigbe-Dangerfield said, is an unappreciated healer – crucial to our ecosystem and an important ingredient in bread, beer, wine and cheese. It also glows in the dark.
“We are a hidden gem, and although it’d be nice for others to see all the wonder that is Albany High, there is something special about knowing our value when no one else sees it,” she said.
“… As we take pride in being likened to fungus, remember that every niche is crucial to the overall function of an ecosystem, and that role can go a long way.”
Otitigbe-Dangerfield also said that she received a letter from a six-year-old who saw that she is the Albany High’s first African-American valedictorian.
“The girl wrote, ‘I am just like you – Black, smart and brave. I want to be a doctor. I hope we can be friends.’ What I learned in those three sentences was that no matter how big or small, we can never underestimate the power our actions have on others,” she said.
University at Albany-bound Kam urged members of the Class of 2021 to do things right and with pride.
“Leave everything better than when you found it, thinking of the people around you … Be sure to savor the victories and appreciate the growth. Appreciate the support from our proud friends, family, and teachers who were always there, cheering us on,” Kam said.
Class president Alzawahra will attend Mount Holyoke College in September. She said one of the defining features of the Albany High Class of 2021 is its ability to adapt and endure challenges.
“These past couple of years alone we have endured extreme political unrest, a world-wide pandemic, economic failure, the death of some of our own beloved community members and many more challenges – too many to list here … Today we celebrate overcoming our own challenges and being able to walk across the field today and celebrate our graduation. We should all feel proud of our achievements, no matter how big or small,” Alzawahra said.
City School District of Albany Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams and Board of Education President Anne Savage addressed the students in video (although both attended Sunday’s ceremonies in-person, as well). You can view their video messages, along with messages from Principal Jodi Commerford and Attorney General Letitia James in the "reflections and messages to Falcons" section of this page.
In addition to the graduates who crossed the stage, the family of senior Lee Horne, who died on March 29, attended the ceremony and was presented with an honorary high school diploma.
Photos, livestreams and graduation videos from the ceremony are all available on the various sections of this page.
This year’s graduates were accepted at almost 180 public and private colleges and universities throughout the country.
Photos and livestreams
Below are links to our photo albums and livestreams of the graduation ceremonies on our district Facebook page. Please note that a Facebook account is not necessary to view the content. A window may display the text "To see more from Albany City Schools on Facebook, log in or create an account," but this can be dismissed by clicking "not now."
The text of student speeches by Onovu Otitigbe-Dangerfield, salutatorian Chai Kam and class president Elizabeth Alzawahra is available below. You can also view their speeches in any of the livestream recordings linked above.
Fungus. What comes to mind when you think of that word?
Mold. Disgusting. Irrelevant. Parasitic Infections. The list goes on.
Albany High is like fungus.
The presence of adversity and poverty among our student body is undeniable. We have faced what it's like to be on the losing side of a soccer, football, and lacrosse field once, twice or for all the games in the season.
But is that all we are?
Fungus is more than just mushrooms.
Did you know fungus is crucial to our ecosystem responsible for breaking down organic matter, releasing essential elements into the atmosphere. It is integral to making many of our delicacies like bread, beer, wine and cheese.
And it can glow in the dark!
So, I state again. Albany High is like fungus.
Now, the question is whether or not that’s a bad thing.
Albany High is home to a curriculum that gives students the opportunity to be the architect of their education with AP and IB course offerings. We are home to Abrookin where students are encouraged to explore all the world has to offer in alternative career pathways that work for them We are home to the most embodiment of a melting pot where in a stroll down the hallway you take a journey from Asia, to Europe to America to Africa and other places, taking in students’ conversations, clothing, food and culture.
We are home to lectures like no other from Contento, the struggle of chemistry with the infamous Troy Robert Gale, AP World with Evans, using our lunch breaks to stop at sub chunkin and student activism that takes the school by a storm.
One of the things I admire about fungus is that it is not a silent killer, but an unappreciated healer.
We are a hidden gem, and although it’d be nice for others to see all the wonder that is Albany High, there is something special about knowing our value when no one else sees it, where the world's perception of this school is the least of our concerns.
In Ms. Contreras’ class, the first week of school she had us write our goals for the school year.
As it has come to an end she shared the responses:
Get a license… sell 50 things on my etsy shop…..stay on honor roll all year…. Get financial stability… secure at least five scholarships… walk across the stage.
What that goes to show is the fact that as cheesy as it sounds we all have dreams and aspirations with the common goal of wanting not only to survive but thrive and make our lives better.
What we hoped for our entire class was to, and I quote: “have fun… for kids to say they learned, not just that they passed… a mural painted by the seniors….one student wrote I want the class to have a legacy of that shows the underclassmen you can survive anything in spite of roadblocks or challenges.”
Now, in June most of us have our licenses, have made it through the year not just learning academics but how to socially adapt and navigate history in the making, have a beautiful mural of the Lorax on the wall behind us painted by our talented senior artists.
That's the beauty of life - setting goals gives you the opportunity to surprise yourself. When I was in sixth grade I remember saying I wanted to go to Harvard to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. Now, as the first black valedictorian of Albany High School, headed to Harvard to study biomedical engineering and neuroscience that dream is coming true.
In a year where many of my peers that look like me have shared the same hopeless feelings I had about unwarranted hatred over what I cannot control - I hope I am an example of the reality that you can more than do it, you can crush it in a world that puts obstacles in place that may make you feel otherwise.
As we take pride in being likened to fungus - remember that every niche is crucial to the overall function of an ecosystem - and that role can go a long way.
I got a letter from a little girl who saw my story. She said: Hello, I am six years old. I am just like you - black, smart and brave. I want to be a doctor. I hope we can be friends. What I learned in those three sentences was that no matter how big or small - we can never underestimate the
power our actions have on others.
The transformation from baby freshmen to graduating seniors to life is one that we cannot avoid - and as we start from square one again in the fall we should ask ourselves - what kind of journey do you want that to be?
The idea of sticking to the status quo was intimidating, but we were all in this together. It’s hanging out with your friends every day, getting ready for the pep rally right before homecoming, dressing up for prom, and lots of procrastination.
Well now, What Time Is It? We have to Walk Away, it’s Now or Never, Right Here, Right Now.
Definitions of who are as a school community and individuals will always exist in a society that will always seek to classify people based on perception. But the definitions belong to the definers, not the defined - and we as Albany High graduates have the perseverance, strength and willpower to be those definers.
Be confident enough to say I want it all - it's hard to Work This Out but we are not expected to - because it's the Start of Something New and that should be exciting!
If you aren’t a fellow HSM enthusiast like me - you may not have noticed but I managed to mention my top picks for the greatest songs to come out of that cinematic masterpiece throughout my speech - which brings me to another point. Yes, we’re getting old - but that doesn’t mean we have to abandon our childlike joy and innocence.
So next year, when adulting gets hard remember the unsung heroes of the building like Mr. Hauser always ready with a fistbump and Mr. Pryor with his slam poetry as we get our bags checked to the lunch aids that are always ready to give an extra scoop of food to their favorites, to the test proctors we’ve had every year that ease the anxiety of standardized testing with their calm demeanors.
Remember the teachers that let their infectious passion for educating inspire us to find that same passion every day.
Remember our families- biological and chosen- we take for granted, and how without them we wouldn’t be where we are now.
Remember how AHS, and everything that goes with it was important to YOUR ecosystem, and take that glow with you in to the next chapter of your life.
Remember the now four b’s of the Albany City School District - Be safe. Be responsible. Be respectful. Be fungus.
— Valedictorian Onovu Otitigbe-Dangerfield
Looking around at all of these faces, it blows my mind thinking of how far we’ve come. It seems not too long ago that we were just *this* tall with our eyes full of wonder, ready to take on the world. We were so cute; what happened to us?
Then, In the blink of an eye, our pre-teenage years came and went as we lived our coming-of-age movies with all of the drama, cringe-y dance moves, and awkwardness that comes with it. Eventually, we got older, some might say wiser. Others, not so much. And we began to grow out of this awkwardness, expand our comfort zones, and discover our talents through new passions at Albany High. Our diverse portfolio of achievements soon included, our impressive athletics, robotics competitions, chess championships, art productions, community service and anything else you can think of adding to Albany’s glowing resume.
Now as we all know, the 2020-2021 school year was a testament to our abilities where we constantly pushed ourselves beyond our limits, defying all odds against us. Like how no matter how much homework was assigned, we always found the time to procrastinate. No matter how much later classes started or how much of our day was spent in bed, we always found a way to be sleep-deprived.
No matter how much time was spent repairing the A/C units, this building found ways to be a sauna in one room, a frozen tundra in the next, and a rainforest down the hall, but we always found a way to keep the cold sweats to a minimum and dodge the indoor raindrops. No matter how we chose to learn, in person or zoom meet, Google cheat, bed frame high school, we survived. And now we’re graduating – moving onto bigger, better and a whole lot more terrifying things.
Now if you’re anything like me, you may start to be experiencing that sinking feeling of existential dread, those butterflies in your stomach, and shaky hands as you anticipate the impending reality of life. This could probably be diagnosed as nerves, which can be treated with a positive perspective, confidence, and the array of lessons learned here at the high, and you'll be ready for the new and exciting journey ahead. But if these are the signs and symptoms of Monday's cafeteria mystery meat, a quick trip down memory lane one last time to your favorite stall may be exactly what you need.
Looking ahead, whatever path you take: when you do something, do it right and do it with pride. Leave everything better than when you found it thinking of the people around you. Like when you leave the bathroom, you actually flush before you leave (it’s not that hard). Bathroom jokes aside, there will be ups and downs on your journey in life. So be sure to savor the victories and appreciate the growth. Appreciate the support from our proud friends, family, and teachers who were always there, cheering us on. And to those family, friends, faculty, and staff: Thank you for all that you do. I know that we don’t thank you guys enough.
And to each of you in the class of 2021, whether I knew you personally or not, thank you for making our time together these past four years’ worth remembering. I look forward to seeing you all walk across the stage with a diploma in hand. May our paths cross again soon as the future politicians, athletes, doctors, lawyers, architects, programmers, electricians, chefs, historians, carpenters, or whatever else life may make of us.
These past years had some good times and some bad times, but they were our times to experience. I am proud of each and every one of you and I am proud to say that I am an Albany high falcon. It is an honor to share the title of “Class of 2021” with all of you.
Congratulations! I wish you all good luck, not that you’ll need it. Now get out of here and celebrate while we're still young.
— Salutatorian Chai Kam
Hello and welcome. Congratulations to the graduating Class of 2021. Our high school experience has been a unique one, making it all the more memorable. Thank you to the teachers, hall monitors, staff, and parents who have supported us through this journey called high school.
As we all gather here once more, I wanted to take the time to reflect on our journey together and the lessons learned. Our class, especially, has been faced with … interesting experiences and our ability to adapt and endure challenges is one of the defining features of this class, whether by choice or not.
These past couple of years alone we have endured: extreme political unrest, a world-wide pandemic, economic failure, the death of some of our own beloved community members and many more challenges -- too many to list here. While I wasn't able to get to know everyone in the Class of 2021 personally, I do know that everyone's lives have been affected in one way or another by the past couple years. As I was writing this speech I struggled to figure out if I should go in depth about all of our experiences this past year and a half. It didn't seem fair to pretend like nothing happened all while it feels like we have just been through decades’ worth of experiences. In this speech however, I hope to give you all a little escape from the world, and be able to laugh a bit. Today we celebrate overcoming our own challenges and being able to walk across the field today and celebrate our graduation. We should all feel proud of our achievements, no matter how big or small.
Lesson number one, no matter how lost we are, we will always find our way. Looking back to freshman year, I can identify my first achievement in high school. The first day of high school was also my first day using public transportation myself. I remember having the whole journey home mapped out perfectly, except for one important detail … which direction I would take the bus. I ended up taking the correct bus, but took it in the opposite direction that I should have. When the bus driver got to the last stop, he told me we had reached the “end of the route” and I needed to get off. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to get home, given my poor sense of direction, but I did make it home (and the getting home part is a story for another day)! No matter how lost you are, you can always find a way back to where you should be.
Lesson number two, discomfort can push us to new boundaries. For those of you who don’t know this about me, I like music a bit, I also like singing. However, when I started high school, I absolutely hated singing in front of others. Now with this information I'm going to present to you a scenario. You are a girl, you just got into Albanettes, a choral group where you may have to sing by yourself to hold up your part. However, there is one slight issue, you are afraid to sing by yourself! I was in a dilemma ... how am I supposed to support my group when I can't sing?! So I decided I was going to go on a journey. I was going to start doing open mics! A friend kindly offered to play guitar. I found a place with an open Mic night (Thanks Emac) and some songs to sing! Flashforward to the night. I did it! Was it great? Not really! But that's alright. Since I was able to do it once and lived to tell the tale, I decided to do it again and again and then once more for good measure. Thanks to my friends, yummy ice cream and a little bit of courage, I can now say I'm able to sing without laughing! Woo, achievements! I also would like to take this time to give a special thanks to the music department for fostering my immense love for music and creating a home that will last a lifetime.
Now onto the last lesson, to quote the wise words of My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic. As you all know, we humans are social creatures and we need connections to thrive as individuals. I wanted to take a moment to commemorate all the friends and relationships I have built along the way at Albany High, and I encourage you to do the same. High school can be pretty hard, not just academically, but socially too. It's filled with a bunch of teenagers stuck in a building trying to figure out who they are. Imagine almost 3,000 kids all having an identity crisis at the same time. Just when you think you’ve figured things out, things change and you have to adjust to new challenges. The weekly sub-chunkin runs, spending a little “too much time” in the music wing, and using study hall periods as a movie theatre to watch Marvel movies. This year's senior prom, the two senior skip days accidentally created, there are so many more stories and experiences, but none of these stories would be possible without all of us. Without friends, family, and appreciation for some of the simple things in life, high school would be pretty intolerable ... It’s always important now and in the future to remember your friends and the people who helped you along the way.
I'm grateful for my time here and will miss everyone. However, I do have to plan the reunion so I will see a lot of you in 10 years. On that note congratulations to the class of 2021. Thank you.
— Class President Elizabeth Alzawahra
Reflections and messages to Falcons
In addition the in-person celebrations, we also released a series of videos featuring seniors reflecting on their time at Albany High, as well as messages to Falcons from district leadership and Attorney General Letitia James.