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Seneca Valley Class of 2016 Urged to “Let the Sandpaper Work”

The 264 members of Seneca Valley High School’s Class of 2016 held their commencement exercises Friday morning in the Daughters of the American Revolution – Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.

The graduates were urged by Commencement Speaker Dr. Damien Robinson to “Let the sandpaper work.” Robinson, who is ACES Academic Coach with Montgomery College in Germantown, spoke to the Class of 2016 about the importance understanding that all the obstacles or hardships along the path to success are just sandpaper.

He said that life was full of sand paper, and the graduates need to “let the sandpaper work.”

“Sandpaper is the professor that prides himself on failing students,” said Robinson. “Sandpaper is your friend that makes you feel bad for not going to the party. Sandpaper is the music sheet the refuses to translate to harmonic sounds. Sandpaper is that voice in your head that tells you that you only need to study for a half-hour for the mid-term. Here is the thing about sandpaper, as it works against you, you end up smooth and shiny, and it ends up worn out and useless. So I say to you, let the sandpaper work.”

Robinson has been instrumental in developing and implementing Montgomery County’s’ flagship academic support program, Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES). It is Montgomery College’s flagship college pathways program, established in 2013 and it is a partnership between Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, and Universities at Shady Grove. The mission of the program is to provide resources and access to higher education and follow them from high school to the completion of the Bachelor’s Degree.

“So many people around me poured knowledge, wisdom, time, money and, most importantly, love into me,” said Robinson. “I know that I can never pay them back, but they made it clear to me that I must pay it forward. Which leads to Lesson Number One: When someone helps you along your journey, you have a responsibility to pay it forward. No one has ever gotten anywhere by themselves, whether we have been given something or given the opportunity to earn something, please know that someone came before you and made it possible and as a result you owe it to the world.”

“That payment can come in the form of a kind word,” continued Robinson. “It can come by paying for a backpack full of school supplies to a young child who has nothing, or by passing along a piece of advice that someone older has shared with you. I like to say that knowledge and love are free.”

“Lesson Number Two: You are going to fail,” Robinson told the graduates. “It is inevitable. Sometimes you are going to do the best you can and follow all the directions, and things will still not go your way. Newsflash: Life is not about fair or unfair, it just is. Each time you fail you are going to learn something new. And when you reach your goal you will be stronger and wiser because of your failures. Never make excuses, instead, make it happen. Make sure that you push yourself to be the best person you can be.”

Seneca Valley High School’s Principal Dr. Marc J. Cohen talked about the Class of 2016 as being “a collection of caring, open-minded and principled young men and women, who know how to make the right choices. You strive for balance in your lives, but you are not afraid to take risks. You care about each other, and you are collectively committed to making this world a better place. I am incredibly proud of each and every one of you for all that you have done. Continue to show the world what it means to be a Screaming Eagle.”

Cohen said that 80 percent of the Class of 2016 will be entering a two- or four-year college, and collectively they have earned over $7 million in scholarships. “We also have seven students that have announced their plans to join the military following graduation, and one of our students has accepted an appointment to the United States Naval Academy,” said Cohen.

That student is Sami Mullah, president of the senior class. He will be attending the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in the fall and spoke to his classmates about their time at The Valley.

“All these years, so many of us have been dying to get out of here,” said Mullah, “and now that it is time to go we are saying things like, ‘time goes so fast,’ and ‘I can’t believe high school is over.’ In this last week, I learned that high school was never about graduation, it was never about getting to the next step in life after graduation. I learned that high school was all about the things we learned, the relationships we built, and the experiences that have shaped us into who we are today.”

While Student Speaker, senior Carolyn Majane, spoke reminisced about some of the accomplishments the Class of 2016 had a part of during their time at Seneca Valley. “To my fellow members of the Class of 2016, thank you for being you,” said Majane. “Thank you for being ‘so lit,' so inspiring, so obnoxious, and so unique. Together we helped to return the King’s Trophy to its rightful home; we became undefeated powder-puff champions, and we cheered our hearts out at the Verizon Center.”

She also reflected on what the Class of 2016 will do now that they are no longer students at Seneca Valley. “We spent four years chasing a high school diploma, and when we leave here today, it will no longer be our identity as high schoolers that defines us,” said Majane. “We will no longer be the members of our beloved clubs, honor societies, or Screaming Eagle sports teams. But with the loss of those identities comes the opportunity to meet new people, try new things, change the world, chase the next dream, and define ourselves by being part of something bigger, greater and more important. After all, who are the high schoolers we were compared to the incredible people we can now become?”


Top: The Seneca Valley High School Class of 2016 during Commencement at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. on Friday, June 3, 2016.

Next: Guest Speaker Dr. Damien Robinson, ACES Academic Coach reminded the graduates to pay it forward.

Next: United States Naval Academy appointee and graduating senior Sami Mullah addressed his fellow seniors.

Next: The Seneca Valley High School Class of 2016

Next: Senior members of the Seneca Valley Choir singing during Commencement Exercises.

Next: Senior Grayson Blanchard played guitar, as Tatiana Nguyen, Nikita Tatwadhia, and Geraden Ward sang Kamin’s “Along the Road.”

Next: Seniors spending their last moments as high school students. Next: Video of the Class of 2016 moving their tassels after receiving their diplomas. Courtesy Board of Education member Rebecca Smondrowski's twitter feed.

Next: Student Speaker Carolyn Majane spoke of Seneca Valley’s unique teachers and memorable moments of the Class of 2016.

Photos by Germantown Pulse.


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