Angela Sharpe shed a tear when it was her turn to speak.
Sharpe, the center director for Children’s Aid’s Hope Leadership Academy, was caught up in emotion because of all that her students had accomplished in a semester unlike any other.
“Ultimately, you dared to view new possibilities for your future,” she told the student. “You did this while life as you know it was changing every day. This is what change requires. This is what change looks like.”
The students were celebrating their graduation from Madison Square Garden’s Virtual Classroom Program. The initiative is a partnership between Children’s Aid and Garden of Dreams, MSG’s nonprofit foundation. Every week, students gathered virtually to learn valuable lessons in leadership from luminaries in the sports and entertainment industries.
During their graduation ceremony, which took place two days after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the students shared their favorite quotes from the civil rights hero. They also shared a short video recapping the many incredible guests they’d been able to learn from during the semester, including Congressman Adriano Espaillat and NBA assistant coach Becky Hammon.
The clip from the conversation with Hammon emphasized a cornerstone of the program: Bouncing forward from adversity. Hammon talked about her journey to becoming a trailblazing woman in what was previously an all-male industry: NBA coaching.
Andrea Greenberg, the President and CEO of MSG Networks, also pioneered a new path for women in entertainment and television. Speaking at the graduation, she encouraged the students to continue following their curiosities and their passions. Allan Houston, a retired NBA star who went to the Finals with the Knicks in 1999, told the students that they would be the Dr. Kings of tomorrow.
“Don’t think of yourselves only as people who quote Dr. King,” he said. “You are the leaders who will model who he was in your generation. My biggest message and challenge to you is to be a light in the darkness.”
Sharpe, who has been working with many of the students for years, was clearly moved by the moment. Before giving out the Certificates of Completion to each student, she encouraged them to applaud themselves for bouncing forward through the adversity and challenges inherit in virtual learning.
“Please take a moment to give yourself a round of applause,” she said. “Celebrate yourself, pat yourself on the back. You did it, and you can do so much more.”