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The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) and its nonprofit namesake the Spokesman-Recorder 501(c)(3) hosted the 23rd annual Graduation Celebration Thursday, May 24 at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley. More than 200 community members, graduating students and their parents attended the free scholarship dinner and ceremony awards. Ten students were presented with Cecil E. Newman Scholarships at the event themed “Education and Graduation: It’s a family affair.”

Each year, the MSR invites graduating African and African American high school students in Minnesota to participate in a 500-word essay contest for the scholarship named after the late MSR founder and publisher. A volunteer essay committee selects the winners.

This year’s 2018 Cecil E. Newman $1000 Scholarship winners are Zarina Sementelli, Majeste Phillip, Jay Viar Johnson, Jasmine Jackson, Charlotte DeVaughn, Verbena Dempster, Jerrell Daniel and Maryam Abullahi. Two additional graduating students, Miracle Campton and Amed Faud, each received a $500 Cecil E. & Launa Newman scholarship.

After the event, scholarship recipient Zarina Sementelli said, “It feels empowering and liberating to receive this honor because of who I am and everything I had to overcome.”

Comedian and radio personality Shed G, who has become a mainstay for the graduation celebration, emceed the event and kept the audience entertained and laughing throughout the evening like a “Ringmaster of Fun.”

Travis Lee/MSR News

When asked what it meant for him to get the call to emcee the MSR event again, he said, “What I love about all of this is [that] you see students from different nationalities and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recordergiving them an opportunity to receive scholarship money. The other thing I love is when the guest speakers say something that I can take home as an adult. It makes being here each time extra special.”

The Graduation Celebration featured a variety of offerings, including a career, resource and education expo in the afternoon followed by the gala dinner, live entertainment, and giveaways in the evening.

Keynote speaker Dr. Tonya Jackman Hampton, Ph.D. spoke on the importance of individual branding and knowing where you come from. Dr. Jackman Hampton advised that one should find one’s executive style and then own it. She encouraged the students not to buy into the lie that using proper communication skills is a form of “sounding or talking White.”

Jackman Hampton also referenced her brand as an example, revealing that she, too, benefited from the influence of the late Cecil E. Newman as one of his granddaughters and embraced the Graduation Celebration’s “It’s a Family Affair” theme with pride.

Performers included “Step with Soul” step team, which opened the entertainment with a fiery, synchronized, crowd-pleasing and foot-stomping routine; and a creatively choreographed performance by dance troupe Shape Shift. Singer Kennedy Hurst also graced the stage with her rendition of Mariah Carey’s Hero.

[/media-credit] Step With Soul dance troupe were one of the evenings many highlights

Tracey Williams-Dillard, MSR CEO & publisher, closed the evening with heartfelt words. “Being in a room with all of the graduates and their families to recognize their achievements and accomplishments truly demonstrates that “Education and Graduation” is a family affair,” said Williams-Dillard.

Over the years, the MSR has recruited marquee-name entertainers as keynote speakers such as LL Cool J, Tavis Smiley, Kimberly Elise, Hill Harper and Nick Cannon, just to name a few, who have helped put the annual Celebration on the local and national map. In recent years, however, MSR has recruited from local talent to address the scholarship winners and their families. The main event sponsor for the Graduation Celebration was the Medtronic Foundation.

African or African American high school students graduating in 2019 are encouraged to apply for next year’s MSR Graduation Celebration in the spring at www.graduation-celebration.com or call the MSR at 612-827-4021.

Below, find our Graduation Celebration insert, including Cecil E. Newman scholarship essays and remarks from Mayor Jacob Frey, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and others. Go here to see this year’s entries for the 2018 Community Yearbook. Scroll down to the more photos from Travis Lee.

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