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On a quiet and breezy spring afternoon, high school student family members poured onto a wide grassy field. The booming sound system, rows of pod seating, and stage that was covered with purple and white balloons indicated a socially-distanced, outdoor high school graduation ceremony.

But it wasn’t just any graduation ceremony. It was the graduation ceremony for the founding class of Ánimo City of Champions Charter High School. Many of the graduating class were part of the original group of students who started in the first 9th grade cohort in 2017.

Setting the Stage

Ánimo City of Champions educators, dressed in black robes, quietly marched onto the field, taking seats near the stage. A sudden and swift silence was met by a breeze rustling branches in the trees near the field. 

Attendees sat at the edge of their seats with their phones clutched, anticipating the next group of honorees. And then, a sudden eruption of joy, clapping, and cheers ensued as the graduates, adorned with purple robes and uniquely decorated hats and tassels, stepped onto the field. Camera clicks, applause, and shouts of congratulations filled the air until every student was seated. 

For these students, this ceremony was only the beginning of their life’s journey. Many sat with silver and gold honor cords, and colorful stoles that symbolized their unique academic and social achievements.  

A Pause for Revel

Students, teachers, and school leaders shared their gratitude for their time spent building a learning community for the last four years. 

Imani Chapman, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)-bound City of Champions Valedictorian, spoke about encouragement and the joys that await her classmates in the future. In her parting message she reminded everyone of their innate potential as champions. “We are the founding class of Animo City of Champions. Let’s take a moment to appreciate that honor. Graduating high school is not minute; it provides momentum for your next journey,” Chapman said. “We are educated. Elevated. And moments away from being graduated,” she added.  

Dr. Cristina de Jesus, President and CEO of Green Dot California, delivered the commencement speech to the graduating class. Reflecting on her own life, in a time before charter schools existed, de Jesus shared how growing up, her family had to fight for school choice. Now, de Jesus’ mission is to ensure that all families have access to high quality public schools regardless of their zip code. “Parents have a right to choose education options, and do not have to settle if you want something different for your child,” de Jesus said to the families and seniors. “Class of 2021, the choice your parents made about your education will impact your life as positively as my parents’ choices impacted my life,” she added.

Transforming Education

Founded in 2017, Ánimo City of Champions has provided students in the city of Inglewood, CA with a  high-quality education, academic and socioemotional support, leadership opportunities, and a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum.  At Ánimo City of Champions,  students have taken college courses through the school’s dual enrollment partnership with Los Angeles Southwest College; attended college tours across the state of California; and had exposure to college-ready curriculum and rigor throughout their high school experience.

Just before graduation, the seniors gathered to reflect on their achievements. “Being the first class to graduate from City of Champions is pretty monumental, because it shows that when you start small and you keep pushing, anything can prosper. Even the impossible is possible,” said Sierra Moore, who will attend California State University Dominguez Hills this fall to study psychology. The oldest of four siblings, Moore will be the first in her family to attend college. “I feel that I can be the one to break certain cycles in my family and that's what I’m moving towards.”

Karen Ray, a founding parent, reflected on the last four years as Ánimo City of Champions parent. “When my son culminated from middle school, Ánimo City of Champions was the only school to invite my child to visit the campus—no other Inglewood high school did that,” Karen Ray said. Since then, she has been impressed by the dedication of both the educators and staff, and credits them for helping her son determine his path for college. “He wants to study agriculture to become a cowboy protector or a bullfighter,” Ray said. At Ánimo City of Champions, Karen Ray’s son received the support and encouragement to pursue his biggest dreams. In fact, an Ánimo City of Champions English teacher personally linked Ray’s son to a professor of agriculture so he could pursue his professional goal. 

For over 20 years, our schools have served families across Los Angeles, ensuring every student has an opportunity to achieve their life goals. By investing in high-quality education, cultivating a college-going culture, built on high expectations, individualized supports, academic planning, and family involvement, we are preparing our students with the tools they need to be successful in college, leadership, and life.