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WLRN Connects: Marking The Not-Normal End Of The School Year

Nancy Klingener
The 11 graduating seniors from Somerset Island Preparatory School in Key West participated in a graduation procession via jet skis.

A graduation, but with students retrieving their diplomas atop jet skis. An a capella choral concert, but with each voice recorded as a solo and stitched together into a viral video. An "emotional" award ceremony honoring the top high school seniors in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, but convened on Zoom and broadcast on YouTube. The conclusion of a 30-year career, but with a retiring teacher sitting alone in an empty, quiet classroom.

These are the strange, sad, creative, uplifting and inspiring ways South Floridians are marking the end of a school year like no other.

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With WLRN Connects, a new show airing Mondays in June, we invite South Floridians to share with us the big and small ways their lives have changed in the face of COVID-19's new normal.

In this week's show, we also tackle the unrest over the weekend, as thousands of people across South Florida protested racial injustice and police brutality following a white Minneapolis police officer's killing of a black man, George Floyd.

During a weekend at the dawn of summer that's usually peppered with celebrations marking endings and beginnings, the class of 2020 grappled with the painful reality it is inheriting: the country's legacy of violence motivated by racism.

Joseph Mullen, a graduating senior at Cypress Bay High School in Broward County, won a 2020 Silver Knight award, a $2,000 scholarship presented by our news partner the Miami Herald and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In part, he was honored because of his advocacy on social justice issues, including his work to encourage education about apartheid, a system of racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa.

"Nowadays, it's imperative that we teach people my age about what the apartheid system was and some of the unfortunately striking similarities and parallels within the United States in terms of racial inequities and police brutality — issues that we're seeing play out right now in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd," Mullen said.

"I think if we start teaching high school students at the high school level about these inequities, we can prevent ... these inequalities from permeating in the future," he said.

T.jermaine Adams, a graduating senior at Miami Carol City Senior High School and another Silver Knight winner, said he wants to get involved in the activism sparked by Floyd's death but hasn't yet because of his parents' fears for his safety.

"They just fear that if I go to far, this might be the last time they see me," he said. "It's this idea and fear that they have that I'm just not going to make it, as a black man in America."

Watch a broadcast of the program on Facebook Live:

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.
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