East Harlem school holds in-person graduation

An in-person graduation ceremony was held on Monday at a public school in East Harlem, a community hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. After so many months of remote learning, twin brothers Jesus and Joel Gonzalez didn't know how this day would pan out.

"Because of COVID and the pandemic, I didn't think this day would make it, especially in person, but I'm really just proud to be here and it's an amazing experience, to be honest," Jesus said. 

"It's really nice to know that if you keep striving to do your best and now we can have an in-person graduation, at the end of the day it's like we made it, you know," Joel said.

It was an outdoor setup on this hot June day as grads and their families donned masks — the new normal that has taken so long to get used to. Still, the in-person gathering was a sign of moving forward after last year's graduation at Central Park East High School was virtual.

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Principal Bennett Lieberman marvels at his students' achievements.

"These kids may have struggled through a pandemic but they are definitely our strongest graduating class we've ever had in the history of Central Park East," Lieberman said. "They generated over $3.5 million in scholarships, grants and awards."

For Bronx mom Naomi Stewart, it was a day to honor her daughter, Nia, who like so many other students tackled the challenges of the pandemic head-on. Now, they're more ready than ever for any hurdles they may face in the future.

"The pandemic was definitely hard but she made it, we both made it happen," Stewart said. "Balancing work and school, we talked to each other, we communicated, we got it, she did it."

In all, 128 students graduated from Central Park East High School. All of them are going to college in the fall except one, who will be joining the Marines.

Lieberman said he hopes the graduates continue to succeed. He also said he hopes to see another in-person graduation next year — but indoors and without masks.