SALEM — They came in on a lottery, but they left Friday as family.
Salem Academy Charter School, a grades 6-12 public charter school in Shetland Park, graduated 50 seniors from its Norman H. Read Gymnasium Friday night. It’s the largest class the school — founded in 2004 — has ever graduated, according to Board of Trustees chairwoman Nina Cohen.
“Schools, especially schools like ours, schools that keep you here until 4 (o’clock) like we do, become a second family,” said Sean Gass, the upper school principal. “And just like any family, we understand one another in unique ways. We make each other proud a lot, and sometimes we make each other hurt — but we’re always here.”
And in some cases, students needed that second family during their journeys, according to Gass.
“Many overcame incredible challenges to be here today. They have had moments that tested their resolve, and taught them how to reach out for help, and brought them together to support one another,” he said. “Among the many things they have dealt with are injury, abuse, homelessness, trauma, depression and profound loss.
“Life has already tested the group that sits before you today, and they have passed,” Gass continued. “This group of students are both superstars and survivors.”
For student speaker Jessica Atwood, Salem Academy is home — but not because of the school itself.
“My mother has always told me that home is where the heart is. As I move beyond Salem Academy, I can confidently say that my heart is here, and it always will be,” Atwood said. “Home is not always defined by tangible constructs. It is not the walls of a place that matters — it’s what happens within those walls that does.”
What happens next, of course, depends on the graduates.
“We will be entering a world that is dependent on us and our actions. We will be faced with problems we did not create, and we will be expected to solve them,” said valedictorian Shannon Murphy. “None of us know where we will be in five, 10 or 20 years from now, but what I do know is that right now, our actions are meaningful and can cause significant, positive and impactful change around us.
“This feels like an ending,” Murphy said. “I know full well that this is just the beginning. You will all go on to bigger and better things, and on your way, I know that you will leave the world a little better than it was when you found it.”