Graduation 2021: Honoring this year's graduates

By Maureen Chowdhury, Mike Hayes and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 7:49 a.m. ET, May 24, 2021
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8:17 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Vice President Harris: You have the "strength to get through anything"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Vice President Kamala Harris congratulated the class of 2021 in her keynote address.

Harris commended graduates for getting through a difficult year and reminded them that their resilience means that they have "strength to get through anything."

'You know exactly what it took to get here. Right in the middle of your junior year, everything seemed to stopped. Prom was canceled, sports were canceled, school plays were canceled and you were separated from your friends and your support network, For more than a year you kept going to class, even if it was online. You kept studying, you kept striving, and you made it to this day," Harris said.

She continued:

"And there are two things I would like you to remember. One, you now know that you have what it takes to get through pretty much anything. So, when you come up against an obstacle and when you experience a setback — and you will, we all do — remember the resilience that you showed this past year, the determination. Remember you have the strength to get through anything. Two, you do not have to get through anything alone. You are not alone. We are all in this together. When we look out for one another, everybody is better off," Harris said.


8:07 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Harris says young people "will help determine what our world will look like on the other side" of the pandemic

Vice President Kamala Harris told graduates that she believes young people "will help determine what our world will look like on the other side" of the pandemic.

Harris told students "you are not the first to shoulder this responsibility."

"Throughout our nation's history, students and young people have helped shape that industry and that history," she said.

She continued: "We need you. We need you to be as kind as you are courageous. We need you to be as ambitious as you are curious. We need you to dream, and we need you to do." 

8:09 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Vice President Harris congratulates graduates: "You give me such inspiration"


Vice President Kamala Harris congratulated the class of 2021, as she spoke to several high school seniors via video conference.

"I couldn't be more proud of you guys," she told the seniors. "The things that you all have accomplished, you give me such inspiration."

She went on to share some advice that her mother gave her.

"She said, 'You know Kamala, you may be the first to be many things, but make sure you're not the last,'" Harris told the seniors.

"Sometimes you're going to be in a room, and you're going to feel like the only one like you in that room, the only one that looks like you or the only one whose had your life experience but what I want you four to remember — and you have to hear me on this — we will all be in that room with you, so don't you ever feel alone. We are all in that room with you, applauding you on."

"Go forth and lead," she told the class of 2021.

Watch the moment:

7:56 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Meet Oakland Technical High School's first Black male valedictorian


Ahmed Muhammad will be Oakland Technical High School's first Black male valedictorian when he graduates this year.

The Stanford University-bound senior started Kits Cubed, a nonprofit designed to "introduce youth to the wonders of science through fun, affordable and accessible means," he said.

Ahmed said the nonprofit has distributed thousands of science kits across the country.

"I was able to create something that's bigger than me," he said.


7:56 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

This tech-loving senior built a robotic therapy device for a fellow student


Aditya Bora found his silver lining while attending school remotely.

The tech-loving, student-athlete leads the robotics team at Johns Creek High School and has spent the last four years using his skills to help others.

Some of his creations include a pair of self-tying shoes and a robotic therapy device, which he built for a student to help him control a motorized wheelchair.

"I always enjoyed building things and exploring things in my free time," the high school senior said.


7:54 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

This high school senior beat cancer and became valedictorian


Holly High School senior Kristen Tefertiller was diagnosed with leukemia in August 2019 and spent eight months in the hospital.

"I wore masks before they were cool," she said. "I washed my hands way more than the average person, and I kept everything clean."

As she battled cancer, Kristen set her eyes on her goals: becoming her high school's valedictorian.

"When I got the news that I was valedictorian, it was like a giant weight lifted off of me," she said.

"When I was in the hospital, my doctor said, 'You don't have to be No. 1 in your class. You're going through too much,' and I looked at him and I said, 'Watch me,'" she added.

Kristen is now cancer free. She celebrated by going skydiving.

"If I can beat cancer, I can go skydiving," she told CNN.


7:52 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

This 2021 grad is the No. 1 women's high school basketball recruit in the nation


Azzi Fudd, a senior from St. John's College High School, is not only her school's student body vice president, she's also the No. 1 women's high school basketball recruit in the nation.

She told CNN the most memorable day this school year was her birthday, which was also the day she signed on to play at the University of Connecticut.

Though the school year was challenging, Fudd remained positive.

"Looking back, I am grateful that I got all this extra time with my family," she said. "I felt like I have really gotten a great relationship with my brothers over this past year and a half and I wouldn't trade that for anything."


7:49 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Dwyane Wade: "Your belief is stronger than any one doubt"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Former NBA basketball and all-star Dwyane Wade congratulated graduates for making it through a tough year and said that he's excited about their future.

"Throughout this pandemic it has been tough for our entire world. And for you guys to persevere and to be here on this day, on graduation, it's an amazing feat. And so, I am excited about the future. You guys have been a future of this world. I'm excited about our future leaders, and just understand that your belief is stronger than any one doubt, and so continue to keep going, continue to keep striving, be amazing and congratulations," Wade said.


7:44 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Russell Wilson tells 2021 graduates to "commit to your vision"

NFL quarterback Russell Wilson told 2021 graduates that now they have a chance to "commit to your vision."

"To me, see, vision isn't about what you plan to do or what you hope to do. Vision is about what you're called to do. When you're living with vision, you're not just being successful, you're achieving exactly what you were put on this Earth to achieve," he said.  

He said that to "live with vision" you have to have discipline, be resilient and have faith.

"Don't just think about the life you'll lead, think about the lives you'll change. Class of 2021, what's your vision?" Wilson said. 

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