LAWRENCE — Less than two years ago, Jeranny Geraldo arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic, unable to speak a word of English.
Friday evening she gave a speech before more than 6,000 people at the Lawrence High School graduation, which took place at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The bleachers were packed.
She thanked the teachers in the International High School who helped her gain proficiency in her new language.
Geraldo delivered the honor essay and was seated on the platform with the two valedictorians, Elvianna DeJesus and Chabeli Garcia, as well as dignitaries including Mayor Daniel Rivera, Superintendent Cynthia Paris, Headmaster Michael Fiato and state Reps. Marcos Devers and Frank Moran.
"We are not alone. We can support each other," she told her fellow graduates. "Don't forget the beautiful moments we have shared.
"They helped me a lot," she said of the International High School faculty during an interview after the ceremony. Geraldo plans to attend Northern Essex Community College and study radiologic technology.
She is the daughter of Victor Geraldo and Luisa Cruz. They arrived in the United States in September 2017.
DeJesus, who achieved the highest academic average in the Upper School Academy, urged graduates to give a "shoutout" to their parents and gave a shoutout of her own.
"Hola, Mommy!" she yelled.
"Go out and show the world what you're made of," she told her fellow graduates. She also urged them to never forget their alma mater.
"Once a Lancer, always a Lancer," she said. DeJesus will be attending the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Garcia, who earned the highest average at Abbott Lawrence Academy, rebutted the negative image of Lawrence portrayed by some stories in the media.
"They tried to tell us who we are," she said. She praised the graduates who have shown that Lawrence is artistic and athletic.
"We also proved that Lawrence is a community," she said. "We are more than what people constrain us to."
Garcia will be attending Harvard University.
Rivera, a proud "Lawrence kid" himself who graduated from the high school 30 years ago, also contradicted the Immigrant City's detractors. He paid tribute to the parents of the graduates, "who have put your well-being before theirs."
The mayor urged the 723 young men and women to celebrate their milestone to the fullest – but when they can't dance any more, can't take any more selfies, "take a breath and get back to work," he said.
"I'm still new," said Paris, who was chosen to lead the Lawrence schools slightly more than a year ago. She said she has learned that Lawrence students are "talented in 1,000 different ways."
She recalled the Sept. 13 gas disaster, when fires and explosions caused by overpressurized gas lines destroyed several homes and forced thousands of residents to seek temporary shelter.
"You did more than just get back on your feet," she said. Among other accomplishments, students put together a nationally recognized science project, she noted.
"You have a lot to teach the world," she said.
At 8 p.m., after every member of the Class of 2019 had received his or her diploma, hundreds of mortarboards were tossed in the air as they were officially declared high school graduates.
The graduation was uplifting for the family of Isaac Baez – literally.
Family members snapped pictures of Isaac's older brother, Jason Baez, carrying him. Then the brothers reversed positions and Isaac picked up Jason, who is 10 years older.
Their parents, Matis Baez and Julia Sanchez, looked on proudly.
Isaac Baez wore a red cord with his blue graduation gown, signifying that he maintained a 3.8 or better average during his senior year. He will be attending Northern Essex Community College, where he said he will likely major in computer science.
Then he hopes to transfer to UMass Lowell.
"The teachers at Lawrence High are amazing," he said. "Write that in capital letters!"