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Princeton valedictorian addresses national virtual high school graduation ceremony

Since being named Princeton’s first Black valedictorian in the school’s 274-year history, Nicholas Johnson says countless people have asked him about the secret to his success. It’s an inquiry he said he sometimes struggles to answer because he believes success can manifest itself through achievements, but that true success is a lot more than the accolades listed on a person’s curriculum vitae (CV).

Johnson, who spoke virtually at the Ministry of Education’s National Virtual Graduation Ceremony, told the approximate 2,500-strong graduating class of 2020 that he believes true success is something that is entirely internal to an individual, and occurs when one achieves the goal one sets out to accomplish in the world.

“A key step towards achieving true success is to adopt what I call a successful mindset,” said the son of a Bahamian father, Dr. Dexter Johnson and a Canadian-Jamaican mother, Dr. Anita Johnson. “A successful mindset is one in which an individual has defined a clear set of goals that they want to accomplish and considers these goals when making concrete decisions in their everyday life.”

Johnson shared that during his four years at Princeton, he kept a small whiteboard on his dorm room wall, which served as his goal board on which he wrote the list of objectives he hoped to achieve during his undergraduate studies. His list he said helped him think deliberately to ensure that the actions he took daily, helped him to progress consistently toward those goals.

“Almost every morning as I was getting ready for the day ahead, I took a quick glance at my goal board before setting out for the day. On the more challenging days, that whiteboard served as a useful source of motivation,” said Johnson.

He also admitted that there were many goals on his whiteboard that he did not manage to achieve, but that, nevertheless, the whiteboard’s existence was instrumental in helping him adopt a successful mindset.

He challenged the Bahamian graduates to determine whether they have a sound blueprint, which he said should be their goal board. If they don’t, he encouraged them to develop one, but to reflect deeply while building it, then share it with their close friends and hold each other accountable in the pursuit of excellence.

“Together, we are virtually unstoppable,” said Johnson.

He also credits a video given to him by his parents, of a speech made by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to a group of graduating students, as a blueprint for him. During Dr. King’s speech, he informs the graduates that they are at the most important and crucial time of their lives, and that what they do, may very well determine which way their life will go.

Johnson said he’s watched the video countless times as a source of motivation.

“The question is whether you have a proper, a solid, and a sound blueprint,” said Johnson who virtually addressed Bahamian graduates one month after his own virtual graduation from the prestigious university with a degree in engineering. “Let us endeavor to emerge from this pandemic stronger, more united, and with greater social conscience, and respect for the power of virtual learning to effect change for an even greater Bahamas. I salute your resilience in the face of unprecedented adversity. I encourage each of you to commit to the continued pursuit of excellence even as we embrace a new normal – forward, upward, onward, together,” he said borrowing the words of the Bahamian motto.

The members of the graduating class of 2020 having arrived at their graduation, said they realized they are, virtually, unstoppable, having entered the world in the wake of 9/11, survived Hurricane Dorian, and graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic with the Ministry of Education virtually hosting their graduation ceremony on Tuesday, July 7.

Johnson reminded them that he, too, was a part of this year’s class of graduates for which novel terms such as shelter in place, contact tracing, surveillance, isolation, quarantine, and social distancing became common jargon during the final school term and had to embrace virtual learning. And that the variations in internet access around the world uncovered disparities and access to education in many underserved regions, not unlike some of the Family Islands, and some areas in New Providence. He spoke to them about the stressors they might have felt and that many of them may feel robbed of the various festivities that would normally have culminated in their graduation, but that they should take comfort in the fact that they are not alone, as members of the class of 2020 across the globe shared similar concerns and insecurities. He urged them to not allow the feelings to create a sense of powerlessness that paralyzes them.

“In the face of unexpected events, it is critical to adopt a long-term view and to have faith that by taking the appropriate steps, the future will be brighter. Though unexpected, these occasions often prove to be defining moments in our lives.”

Johnson encouraged the graduates going forward to be deliberate in the choices they make in life.

There were also tributes from a number of special guests including Mychal Thompson, former NBA player who congratulated them on their achievement, and reminded them to work hard as they embark on their next chapter of their life.

They also heard from a number of Bahamian influencers – the likes of comedians Sawyer Boy, who addressed them in a message he recorded outdoors in the July heat in a zipped-up leather jacket. He defended wearing his jacket. “It may snow. It’s 2020 … anything is possible. Expect the unexpected [after all] you graduated during a pandemic, which means you can make it; while Das Quay encouraged them to go out, be great and create, also stating that he couldn’t wait to see the amazing things they will do.

Musicians Julien Believe encouraged the graduates to focus on their dreams and believe in themselves; while Bodine Johnson said they were created for such a time as this and that the world is adjusting because they are moving into it to do some amazing things. Entertainer D.J. Ovadose said their goals will come true, but that prioritizing is key.

Olympic gold medalist Shaunae Miller-Uibo reminded the graduates that 2020 has been like no other and that as they move into another chapter of their lives, that it’s time for them to do things independently, be more responsible, to realize that their choices turn into actions, and to always be mindful and thorough about the choices they make.

International singer/songwriter Lenny Kravitz, who is of Bahamian descent, also had encouraging words for the class of 2020.

“Times were not always easy, and certainly this year could not have been anticipated, but you held on, you stayed focused, and completed the goal,” said Kravitz. “The world awaits – blaze new trails. Create the doors that you want to open, and forge ahead with deliberate determination. Never forget your beginnings and your roots. You are Bahamians – we are expecting great things from you, so go out and make us proud.”

And, of course, you could not have special guests without Dynamite Daisy making an appearance to let graduates know how proud she was of them having had to complete the school year via Zoom. In her classic Daisy way, she said “to learn virtually via Zoom could not have been easy, but thankfully no one could give you a cut hip via Zoom.”

Also addressing the graduates virtually were Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd, and Director of Education Marcellus Taylor, as well as principals from both the independent and government school sectors.

CLASS OF 2020 VALEDICTORIANS

Linea Greene, Mangrove Cay High School

Alexandria Rolle, Central Andros High School

Christianna Wallace, North Eleuthera High School

David Rolle, Jr., Mangrove Cay High School

Donovan Butler, St. Augustine’s College

Danae Morrison, Aquinas College

Marie Butterfield, Jack Hayward High School

Ashanti Hepburn, Old Bight High School

Erin Turner, Arthur’s Town High School

Collins Derival, C.I. Gibson High School

Hanna Percentie, L.N. Coakley High School

I’esha Daxon, Admirla Ferguson High School

Kenrid Munroe, Temple Christian High School

Tamia Knowles, Doris Johnson High School

Olivia Ferguson, The Government High School

Jordan Knowles, North Long Island High School

Tabitha Saunders, Anatol Rodgers High School

Tavara Dean, Louise McDonald High School

Jadeyn Newton, C.V. Bethel High School

Lakia Johnson, St. George’s High School

Keyshawn Cox, Acklins Central High School

Nathan Allen, Queen’s College

Silas Turnquest, Jr., N.G.M. Major High School

Shakia Ferguson, Huntley P. Christie High School

Garvon Bullard, C.C. Sweeting High School

Sarah Carey, Preston Albury High School

Amoree Cartwright, Souoth Andros High School

Zakiya McAndrew, Samuel Guy Pinder All-Age School

Duran Roberts, Samuel Guy Pinder All-Age School

Marchar Jean, C.R. Walker Senior School

Caseia Green, Harbour Island All-Age School

Taresha Gelin, Eight Mile Rock High School

Curria Lewis, Final Hour Apostolic Academy

Charles Morely, Inagua All-Age School

Krishonna Rolle, Abraham’s Bay High School

Equoia Gibson, Central Eleuthera High School

Natalea Bain, R.M. Bailey High School

Shante Pratt, San Salvador High School

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