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Mr. Balas’ Speech to the Class of 2020

Greetings to my wonderful Titans of the Class of 2020! You did it! This is a moment of joyous celebration as you graduate T.C. Williams High School. You should be proud of all you have accomplished in your classes, in athletics, in clubs, in the arts, and all other endeavors you completed while at TC. Be proud and raise your head high. Today marks the end of one era and the start of a new one. I can promise you that the Class of 2020 will always be remembered!

I, like many of you, am saddened by the fact that we are not together today as one TC family to hand off diplomas, shake hands, and hug. Our current reality simply will not allow for that at this time. The Class of 2020 has endured so much, and we wanted to put together this production to honor and celebrate you as you graduate today. I look forward to the day when we can see each other again and plan future events to make up for what you have lost. A very special thanks to all involved in making this virtual graduation come together, including TC Williams High School TV Media Productions staff and students and the ACPS Office of Communications. Thank you all for your hard work.

When I think about the Class of 2020, what I remember, Titans, is not just the emotional senior year we have had or school closures. What I remember is how your generation has the power to change the world as we know it. I see this in all of you every day at TC. Your advocacy, your sense of justice, and your unwillingness to accept the wrongs of society shape who you are, and I hope will continue to shape who you will become. These are amazing traits to have and ones that we need now more than ever. 

We are so lucky to be at TC as there is no other place like it in the world. We have a population of students and staff that truly represent the new global majority, and being at TC has helped to prepare you for the wider world. In addition, I will remember how your class has developed the skill of perseverance, whether intentional or not. Nonetheless, you persisted – all of you!

Our sudden school closures in response to a worldwide pandemic is simply unprecedented and has thrown us all into a new way of living with almost no notice. But, you have done it and still made it here today, your graduation. We continue to face the challenges of our school closures as well as the closure of what we used to consider normal ways of life.

But, in recents weeks, we have seen the latest resurgence of an age-old pandemic in our country: racism. We have witnessed the horrors of racism unfold through the unwarranted and vicious murder of yet another black man, George Floyd. We have to face the shame and disgrace of racism in our country. Our citizens have responded by taking to the streets all across the country to demand justice. But, what is different this time? This is certainly not the first time citizens have protested against the horrors of racism. So, why is this different now? 

The impact of closures, quarantines and stay-at-home orders have made life such that we have nowhere to hide and bury our feelings. We cannot simply go about life as normal to distract us. This shameful killing must be a catalyst for change. We can no longer remain silent or claim that the problem exists somewhere else. It’s a problem here and throughout the nation. 

I discuss this with you today, on a day of celebration, because it is the right thing to do. You are the generation that is going to change the world, and, while we may think we all have basic fundamental rights, it is not a reality for all of us. I ask you to use your strengths to become agents of change and participate in productive action that will result in our country instituting justice that has been so elusive for 244 years. As Dr. King stated, “true peace is not merely the absence of tension, but the presence of justice”. So, I implore you to continue to advocate and use your skills to fight injustices in our country. Only through your activism and commitment will we be able to make progress. And, while sometimes it may seem as if change is not possible, you must remain resilient, no matter how difficult that may feel at the current time. 

To do this, let’s all become more than allies for our brothers and sisters throughout the country and world: let’s all become co-conspirators, who are willing to lean into discomfort and spring into action to help dismantle systems of oppression and -isms of marginalized groups to ensure that everyone will always have the right to breathe.

So, Class of 2020, I thank you for being one of the most special classes that I have had the privilege of leading. I challenge you to lead the way and be the change you want to see in the world and accept nothing less because your futures matter!  While this day is not what we expected it to look like, my hope is that you will enjoy your graduation and your Class of 2020 documentary. Also, join us tonight in lighting up Alexandria City by displaying red, white, and blue lights to show your Titan Pride.

Thank you to all of my graduates! And, thank you to your families and loved ones for supporting you and our school, that stands as the symbol of our city, one where dreams come to fruition. And, one where there is a proud legacy – once a Titan, always a Titan. Class of 2020! Congratulations. I miss you and love you all.