The cool breeze off Coral Bay flowed into the Emmaus Moravian Church to carry several hundred friends, family and classmates through an hours-long celebration of the promotion of 10 sixth graders from the Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School, one of the territory’s oldest operating schools.
While students Xavia Bruce-Thomas and Kiana Athanase were the leading scholars, their classmates also received numerous accolades, acclaim and awards in the touching annual ceremony for the island’s “country” elementary school — which includes at least one building dating from its genesis as a 19th Century Moravian school.
First Honor Student Bruce-Thomas and Second Honor Student Athanase were presented with numerous academic honors and awards as were every member of the graduating class: DeVante Monsanto, Kennisha Estrado, Ohemmaa
Lambertis, Malik Richards, Jaqualyn Clarke, Adaiah Brown, Shalise Wade and Ashly Powell.
A program of dignitaries and public officials addressed the promotees and the audience of friends and family members, including the 100-plus students in grades kindergarten through five at the public school serving the east end of St. John.
Homespun pomp and circumstance was interspersed with musical interludes including a stirring rendition of the U.S. National Anthem by music teacher Danielle Greenaway and an enchanting solo performance of Somewhere Over the Rainbow by GBS second grade student Gabriel Brocker.
Principal Dionne Wells delivered welcoming remarks. V.I. Insular Superintendent Jeanette Smith-Barry and V.I. Board of Education Member Oswin Sewer addressed the students, as did Senator Wayne James, Chairperson of the V.I. Senate Committee on Education, Youth and Culture and representatives of the St. John Administrator and of the Senator at Large.
“Guy Benjamin School is small and unique,” said Wells. “It is a tight-knit family. That is a quality we try to instill in every one of our students.”
GBS works to “mold them into well-disciplined girls and boys,” Wells declared.
“Listen to yourself,” Sen. James told the students in an address which reminded them of the role of the Moravians in teaching slaves to read the bible. “The spirit that will guide you through life is in yourself.”
Reverend Lillette I. George, a foster mother, told the students to remind themselves they are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
“Children will give you back what you give to them,” Rev. George told the audience. “We have to learn how to invest in them. God gave you the best He had to offer.”
The faculty and staff members delivered their annual musical salute to the graduating class to close the promotion event which also marked the retirement of two longtime educators.