The territory's largest graduating class of 2018, dubbed the "Stunningly Talented, Ambitious, Resilient, Supreme" (STARS) Class of 2018, hailed from the St. Croix Educational Complex High School (SCECHS) with 213 young people looking ahead to a bright future.
The numbers says it all: One hundred forty (140) are headed to colleges and universities, 39 are enrolled in technical schools, 20 have enlisted in the military, 10 are undecided, and four will enter the workforce. As a whole, the SCECHS STARS have received more than $4 million in scholarships.
In opening remarks, Principal Genitta Richards congratulated the graduates and implored them to trust their instincts.
"Trust your intuition, it never steers you wrong," she said.
Salutatorian Chelsea Valery, an avid traveler who have visited Ghana and Denmark on educational trips, offered inspiring words to her classmates.
"Each of us have a purpose to fulfill and a path to follow," she said, adding, "We have a place in this world."
Valedictorian Ali Boucenna offered a different perspective on hurricanes Irma and Maria that disrupted the students' senior year.
"I refuse to let those disasters define us," he said. "We are much more than that."
Ali went on to use the example of enduring stormy weather in order to make it out on top.
"When the storms hit, life will not always be full of glitz and glamour," he said, "but it's worth living, even through your toughest days."
For the first time in the high school's history, two guest speakers were invited to give the commencement keynote. In a special tag-team effort designed to give graduates varied perspectives on what it takes to succeed, Dr. Tramaine Creighton, a veterinarian, and music executive Jamal Samuel, both graduates of the SCECHS class of 2008, shared their experiences.
"You can only soar as high as your mindset allows you to," noted Dr. Creighton.
She offered students this advice while recounting the hardships and insecurities she overcame during matriculation through veterinary school. She went on to explain that she had boxed herself into only identifying with succeeding academically, and stifled the more creative parts of herself.
"Finding your identity is the most important thing you can do," she said. "Don't limit yourself - cultivate every part of you."
Mr. Samuel, who has worked with superstars, such as Rihanna, Chris Brown, R. City and Niki Minaj, recounted his early financial struggles that cut his college career short. However, that did not stop him from believing in himself and pursuing his dreams.
"I knew I was passionate about what I could do," he said. "Know your purpose, follow your passion and define your identity."
St. Croix Superintendent Colleen Mae Williams encouraged students to "remember your purpose for being here," she said."Remember that we expect great things from you and we know that you will deliver."
Referencing the graduates' experience with Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Education Commissioner Dr. Sharon Ann McCollum said, "Draw strength from what you have experienced this year. Know that if you can get through this, you can get through anything. Go forth and make a positive difference."
In his remarks, Governor Kenneth Mapp implored students to chart their own course.
"It's not just about graduating from high school, it's about stepping into the real world," he said.
Governor Mapp concluded his remarks by telling the graduates to "use each moment of life to focus on who you are and what you want to be. Don't let people define who you are. Don't let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do."