Haven eighth graders gather on the stage of the ETHS auditorium for their graduation ceremony Wednesday night. Credit: Kristin Kutzner Huzar

Proud families and friends gathered Wednesday evening in the Evanston Township High School auditorium to celebrate eighth-grade graduation for Haven Middle School students. The ceremony marked the first in-person middle-school graduation festivities for any Evanston/Skokie District 65 school since spring 2019.

Smiles, hugs and cheers filled the auditorium throughout the event as hundreds of parents, guardians, siblings and others joyously supported the group of Haven graduates, who will now head to ETHS to begin their high school careers this August.

Haven administrators and teachers were on hand for the occasion, as well, offering well-wishes and advice to their students as they make the transition to the next phase of their young lives.

“This graduation ceremony shows that they have, indeed, successfully completed all of their learning requirements as a District 65 student, but this surely isn’t the end of learning for them,” Principal Chris Latting told the crowd. “Continuous learning is essential because it fosters happiness, endless opportunities and fulfilling life experiences.”

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton, who did not attend the ceremony in person, gave a virtual, prerecorded speech that followed Latting’s opening remarks. Horton called this year’s graduating eighth-graders “our true lighthouse class” because they navigated the unprecedented waters of the pandemic and adapted to remote learning, masking and countless other challenges with perseverance over the last two years.

Horton also added that the graduating class “will forever be remembered” as a group who had almost their entire middle school experiences upended by COVID-19, but this year’s eighth-graders led the way for younger students as they tackled new classes and obstacles in a less-than-ideal learning environment.

“The way the Class of 2022 navigated District 65 during the pandemic will forever change our expectations of what students can accomplish,” Horton said. “It reassures us all that the Class of 2022 is a really special group and has such a bright future that there’s no telling what this class will be able to accomplish in the near and far future.”

Wednesday’s graduation wrapped up the end of a particularly difficult year for Haven students, teachers and staff. Last month, community members discovered three nooses hanging in a tree between Haven and Kingsley Elementary School, which sparked calls for a thorough police investigation and an outcry against a threatening and overtly racist symbol being displayed for children, parents and teachers to see.

Earlier, a number of fights involving students also impacted daily learning in the building, and at least two staff members required ambulances earlier in the year due to injuries sustained after violence broke out in school hallways. And in April, a number of longstanding Haven teachers learned that the district was transferring them, some involuntarily, to new schools for the 2022-23 academic year.

Student speaker and graduate Miles Lyons at the podium. Credit: Kristin Kutzner Huzar

But, as Miles Lyons, student speaker and recipient of the African American Youth Achievement Award, said during the ceremony, the graduates persevered in the face of so much adversity, did not shy away from difficult conversations and will ultimately be moving on to high school in just a few months.

“This has been one of the best years of all my school years … I’ve gained really meaningful memories and friendships and made really meaningful new ones,” Lyons said. “Despite our differences and challenges, I feel that we have all become great friends and had so much fun together.”

In his comments to close out the ceremony and officially complete the graduates’ time in District 65, interim Assistant Principal Thomas Smith discussed the significance of the Haven mascot, the Northstar. As Smith said in his speech, more stars exist in the universe than there are grains of sand on the beaches of planet Earth. Every star eventually goes through the supernova process, exploding and quietly fading away into darkness.

But the North Star, formally known as Polaris, is different from all the other stars in the universe because it shines the brightest in the sky and never moves from its single spot, Smith said.

Interim Assistant Principal Thomas Smith offers closing remarks. Credit: Kristin Kutzner Huzar

“How can you, as a Northstar, continue to shine bright and guide those around you without burning yourself out? It’s a tricky and delicate balance, but if I know anything about this group, it’s that you’re ready for a challenge,” Smith said. “Know your worth, know your values and please find a light within you to shine.”

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. AP Smith’s remarks were, after the graduates and cheering families and friends, the highlight of the ceremony. It was tailored, appropriate, caring and positively purposeful.