CAMDEN, NJ – The school district’s class of 2021 may not have been physically in school this year, but that doesn’t mean their educators haven’t noticed their accomplishments.

The district and Subaru held a Zoom-based award ceremony on Wednesday night where 25 grads from eight high schools were honored. On Thursday, they will each receive a check from Subaru intended for them to pursue further education and a laptop.

“For anybody that’s graduating, that’s a good thing,” said Ay’sean Robinson, a graduate of SOAR Academy who will be attending Albright College in Pennsylvania in the fall.

Sign Up for Camden Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

“I would like to say thank you (to) Subaru for the scholarship,” he said, which will allow “me to go on to college and be able to do great things.”

Nyasia Rondon, a graduate of Gateway to College, a high school program the Camden County College runs, was also recognized. She’ll continue on to CCC in the fall along with many of the other students recognized.

“Following that, she intends to establish a car dealership of her own,” said Irvin Sweeney, the director of Gateway.

Upon hearing this, Shira Haaz – Subaru’s corporate responsibility manager, typed in the chat that Rondon should stay in touch. In total, Subaru's contributions to these students is worth $100,000.

But her success story at Gateway was not set in stone. It was something she worked hard for with the support of educators at the unorthodox Gateway program. Sweeney said Rondon had attended two charter schools prior to coming to Gateway.

“She was actually forced to seek employment because of socioeconomic conditions and her desire to help her family,” he said, which made it hard for Rondon to keep up her grades.

But at Gateway, Sweeney said “She transformed herself into what I would describe as a model student.”

Unfortunately, Rondon was far from the only graduate recognized who overcame immense struggles to get their degrees. Like her, many had to work to support themselves and their families while other students had parents or close relatives who died or were dealing with unstable housing situations.

That was all in addition to living through a pandemic and having to take all their classes online.

Most of the students who were honored chose to keep their remarks limited to a brief thank you, but one honoree – Big Picture Learning Academy’s Jonathan Rodriguez – had a bit more to say.

He said the words came from a book he’s writing which will come out at some point this fall.

“It is (about) how well you live, not how long,” said Rodriguez, who plans to join the military. “Most of us are somewhat afraid of the inevitable part of being a human, which is death. However, that fear is probably not associated with actually dying, but more so with how you live your life.”

He had some advice for his fellow graduates and educators. “To everyone in here, I want to say just live it.”

Melissa Herder, an advisor at Big Picture, had some parting words for all the graduates.

“It’s your turn to change the narrative of our fair city,” she said. “It is time for you to be the representation of our city that you want the world to know and see.”

Katrina McCombs, the district’s superintendent, said there will always be a place for these graduates at Camden’s schools.

“Don’t forget about us when you leave,” she said. “We’ll always welcome you back with open arms.”

Here's a list of all the students honored on Wednesday:

Woodrow Wilson High School

  • Yasmilka Perez Tavera
  • Bianca Pena
  • Chantasia Harris
  • Rendy Fernandez
  • Daquaniah Carter

SOAR Academy

  • Ay’sean Robinson

Camden High School

  • Octavia Williams
  • Taquan Coleman
  • Dashahn Draper
  • Amarie Moye

Big Picture Learning Academy

  • Jonathan Rodriguez
  • Pauline English
  • Keilanjae Martin
  • Kyalexis Santos

PRIDE Academy

  • Yaraida Fontanez-Torres

Gateway to College

  • Samantha Rodriguez
  • Nyasia Rondon

Brimm Medical Arts High School

  • Marcus Perkins
  • Ayanna-Isa Muhammad
  • Robert Hamilton
  • Karina Marin

Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy

  • Nedeshka Ruiz-Guerrero
  • Mya Holloman
  • Graham Vineisha
  • Linda Edwards