Monday, June 25, 2018

Today I Saw The Future at PS 140 Graduation- Where Immigrant Optimism Met the American Dream

Today, I had an opportunity to attend the 5th Grade Graduation of a remarkable school in the Morrisania Section of the Bronx, PS 140, led by a brilliant principal, Paul Cannon, who grew up in and still lives in the community where his school was located
For two magical hours, I not only forgot about Donald Trump and his followers, I began to think that their ascdency is only a blip on the nation's radar screen and that before we know it, the celebration of racial and cultural diversity would return as a major theme in the nation's political life.
Because the graduation I attended was not only filled with energy and vitality, it was pervaded with an optimism that many would not expect in an overwhelmingly Black and Latino school during the years that Trump was president,
The theme in every single song, in every speech in every single student presentation was that the future belonged to the graduates, that if their talent was accompanied by hard work, nothing could stop them from achieving success in the United States. Some would do it in medicine, some in law, some in teaching, some in business, some in the arts, but for students in PS 140, as one speaker proclaimed "there is no such word as can't". Their talents were so great that if they worked hard and avoided the pitfalls of peer pressure and cynicism, they would have happy and productive lives
There was absolutely no cynicism in the students responses to these message. The students marched into the auditorium swaying rhythmically, to gospel, R &B and Hip Hop. They chanted the Pledge of Allegiance at top volume, thrilled to the singing of the Spar Spangled Banner by a teacher that was so powerful it almost raised the roof, and chanted "I am Somebody" and "Nothing Can Stop Me" every time a teacher or administrator asked them to
And what made this all the most remarkable is that these students were overwhelmingly the product of immigrant families, coming from more than 20 nations in the Carribean, South America, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. That almost none of them were "white" or European ancestry did nothing to dim their conviction that the American Dream was for them. They were convinced that they were so talented, do driven to achieve success, that the world would open up to them.
And you know what, they may be right. Sitting on stage and listening to these students sing, rap, play musical instruments, watching them dance and sway to the music, listen to their valedictory talks, it would have been hard to imagine them being anything BUT successful
Best of all, there was not a single note of bitterness in the entire two hour ceremony, not from the teachers, not from the administrators, not from the parents, not from the guest speakers
It was not only a celebration of a great school, it was celebration of what American society, at its best, means to our recent immigrants.