MAPLEWOOD, NJ - A new name has been added to the Columbia High School (CHS) Hall of Fame, that of acclaimed singer SZA, who was know as Solána Imani Rowe when she was a student at CHS.
SZA, age 27, was born in St. Louis before moving to Maplewood and graduating from CHS in 2008. At CHS, she was a member of The Special Dance Company, the gymnastics team, and a varsity cheerleader.
SZA, whose debut album Ctrl was released in 2017, and has since gone platinum, was nominated for five Grammy's in 2017 - the most of any artist that year, although she did not win in any category. Her nominations were for Best New Artist, Best R&B Performance (for The Weekend), Best R&B Song (for Supermodel), Best Urban Contemporary Album (for Ctrl), and Best Rap/Sung Performance (for Love Galore).
As she told an electrified CHS community at her Hall of Fame induction ceremony in the school auditorium on Monday morning (which was split into two assemblies to accommodate all of the students), she was not popular when she attended CHS, adding she was bullied and did not go to prom.
"I wasn't popular here, I was joked about," SZA said. "I didn't go to prom because I didn't have any friends to go with."
She encouraged students to be themselves, urging them, "design your own world right now." She also said while she was a CHS she was "walking around these same hallways figuring it out just like you."
SZA also said that "nobody I disappointed more at high school and made more proud of after," than her family, telling the crowd "allow yourself to fail," and sharing she failed out of college and was fired from multiple jobs.
She thanked the CHS teachers who had an influence on her to this day, especially Mrs. Point-Du-Jour, who heads The Special Dance Company at CHS that SZA was a part of while a student at CHS. SZA also said of her teachers, "it's also cool to write fake passes for students and let them be themselves," to cheers from the audience.
She encouraged students to keep holding walkouts and "deciding what doesn't work for you so you can make change when you leave." She also stressed to students the rest of the world isn't like Maplewood and South Orange, saying "this is a really weird blessing of an experience being in this town."
At the second assembly, SZA sang her hit The Weekend with students who screamed and cheered and crowded around the singer.
At the end of her speech, SZA thanked everyone, adding "I love you all. Continue to spread peace and love."
SZA was given an inscribed plaque noting her induction into the Hall of Fame, and an additional copy will be displayed in the CHS library. The Columbia Student Council oversees the Hall of Fame and, along with faculty advisors, selects nominees from a long list of very accomplished graduates, which SZA noted by saying "“way cooler people then me went to this school."
The CHS Hall of Fame was first established in 1985 by then student council president, Andrew Shue, who was himself inducted in 1994 with his sister, Elizabeth Shue.
Other Hall of Fame inductees include Lauryn Hill (CHS '93, inducted '99), Paul Auster (CHS '65, inducted '08) and Zach Braff (CHS '93, inducted '15).
An additional 2018 inductee will be named on Thursday, but in keeping with CHS Hall of Fame tradition, their identity will be kept secret until the ceremony.
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