Aaliyah Allen is eighteen years old. She is an activist, an athlete, and the Class of 2020’s Scholar of the Year at George Washington Carver High School.

She graduated on Friday, June 5, at a drive-through ceremony on Carver’s campus. Like her peers across the country, she had been dreaming of something different before COVID-19 hit.

“I was picturing the school colors—orange and green—and proud parents, and smiling faces. I was picturing joy,” she said. “I was imagining hearing my name, and walking across the stage, and being able to shake the principal’s hand, because I made it.

“I was picturing the joy of the scene. I was picturing seeing everyone I’ve seen fall and get back up again come together. I was looking forward to my mom being proud of me, to see me walking across the stage, to have that proud moment. I wanted her to have that picture.”

Aaliyah’s mother is incarcerated, so Aaliyah was going to share the moment through photos and videos.

“I wanted her to see that image of me walking across that stage, since she, and her mother, and her mother’s mother didn’t do it. I wanted her to have that photo of me. That would have been a proud moment for her.”

The moment holds particular weight because Aaliyah and her mother have now both earned their high school diplomas and are pursuing college degrees.

“It’s going on 12 years since my mom was incarcerated. She finished her high school diploma while I was finishing mine. She is my motivation, because she did it through being behind bars, and also started her college degree to major in criminal justice. That’s black excellence. That’s black empowerment.”

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