This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Story updated at 12:49 p.m. to clarify that Joanne Beaver is remaining at the school as principal.
Phones lit up the dark Merriam Theater on Tuesday, as 155 students from the High School for Creative & Performing Arts accepted their diplomas to graduate.
Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite, who spoke at the event, said students should strive to work hard in their future endeavors.
“Follow your passion to make things better for those around you,” Hite said. “Say yes to positive opportunities that you would have once said no. Become great citizens and live with purpose. Don’t be afraid to be the underdog – it worked pretty well for the Eagles.”
CAPA’s graduation was one of 57 planned from District schools this month, totaling about 4,800 graduates. This doesn’t count those who graduated from the 29 charter schools that have 12th grades.
CAPA is 40 years old this year. It was created as one of several themed high schools to promote school integration under pressure from the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission, which had sued the District over patterns of segregation in its schools.
CAPA’s student population today is 58 percent African American, 21 percent white, 9 percent Latino, 5 percent Asian, and 6 percent multiracial.
Other schools created during this period include George Washington Carver High School of Engineering & Science and Bodine High School of International Affairs.
CAPA’s principal, Joanne Beaver, started at the school when the 2018 graduating class members were starting as freshmen. During the ceremony, Beaver gave out 68 awards to students for achievement in academics, music, dance, and writing, and all the winners were met with thunderous applause. Some of the awards were scholarships to help pay for college, but all the awards included some amount of money.
Kaylee Kennedy, a graduate from the dance program, said she enjoyed her time at CAPA, but was unsure of her future.
“My favorite memory would have to be going to Washington, because I’d never been there before, so my first time going was with my dance crew,” Kennedy said. “I’m actually very excited, but I’m also very nervous because I’m not sure what I’m going to do next.”
The school implemented a new system this year in which students who had cumulative grade point averages of 3.5 or higher were given golden tassels to wear. During the ceremony, Beaver asked the students with the tassels to stand, and more than 60 percent of the students stood to be recognized.
Both the salutatorian, Young Young Wang, and valedictorian, Destiny Verdi, gave speeches about feeling free and welcome at CAPA after unpleasant experiences at their previous schools.
Wang, who immigrated from Taiwan, said that he had a miserable time at the first school he attended, but that coming to CAPA made him feel like he belonged. He is a cellist and will attend the Indiana University School of Music.
“I remember the nervousness I felt before coming here,” Wang said. “I thought to myself that everything will probably stay the same. I will probably still be quiet and have no friends. But then, things went a little differently. My first week in CAPA, someone asked me for my number. Two days later, someone called me an ass, I replied with a thank you because at first, I thought it was a compliment.”
Verdi said that she hated the restrictiveness of her previous school and that she loves the way students at CAPA are able to express themselves so openly.
“Before I came to CAPA, I attended a strict charter school,” she said. “They had a strong curriculum, but due to a strict dress code, I grew to believe that originality was not valued there. As you could imagine, CAPA was an entirely different experience. Everyone had their own style, and all differences were celebrated, and even the guys who strutted in high heels better than I ever could.”