Graduation 2021: Honoring this year's graduates

By Maureen Chowdhury, Mike Hayes and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 7:49 a.m. ET, May 24, 2021
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8:09 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Vice President Harris congratulates graduates: "You give me such inspiration"


Vice President Kamala Harris congratulated the class of 2021, as she spoke to several high school seniors via video conference.

"I couldn't be more proud of you guys," she told the seniors. "The things that you all have accomplished, you give me such inspiration."

She went on to share some advice that her mother gave her.

"She said, 'You know Kamala, you may be the first to be many things, but make sure you're not the last,'" Harris told the seniors.

"Sometimes you're going to be in a room, and you're going to feel like the only one like you in that room, the only one that looks like you or the only one whose had your life experience but what I want you four to remember — and you have to hear me on this — we will all be in that room with you, so don't you ever feel alone. We are all in that room with you, applauding you on."

"Go forth and lead," she told the class of 2021.

Watch the moment:

7:56 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Meet Oakland Technical High School's first Black male valedictorian


Ahmed Muhammad will be Oakland Technical High School's first Black male valedictorian when he graduates this year.

The Stanford University-bound senior started Kits Cubed, a nonprofit designed to "introduce youth to the wonders of science through fun, affordable and accessible means," he said.

Ahmed said the nonprofit has distributed thousands of science kits across the country.

"I was able to create something that's bigger than me," he said.


7:56 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

This tech-loving senior built a robotic therapy device for a fellow student


Aditya Bora found his silver lining while attending school remotely.

The tech-loving, student-athlete leads the robotics team at Johns Creek High School and has spent the last four years using his skills to help others.

Some of his creations include a pair of self-tying shoes and a robotic therapy device, which he built for a student to help him control a motorized wheelchair.

"I always enjoyed building things and exploring things in my free time," the high school senior said.


7:54 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

This high school senior beat cancer and became valedictorian


Holly High School senior Kristen Tefertiller was diagnosed with leukemia in August 2019 and spent eight months in the hospital.

"I wore masks before they were cool," she said. "I washed my hands way more than the average person, and I kept everything clean."

As she battled cancer, Kristen set her eyes on her goals: becoming her high school's valedictorian.

"When I got the news that I was valedictorian, it was like a giant weight lifted off of me," she said.

"When I was in the hospital, my doctor said, 'You don't have to be No. 1 in your class. You're going through too much,' and I looked at him and I said, 'Watch me,'" she added.

Kristen is now cancer free. She celebrated by going skydiving.

"If I can beat cancer, I can go skydiving," she told CNN.


7:52 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

This 2021 grad is the No. 1 women's high school basketball recruit in the nation


Azzi Fudd, a senior from St. John's College High School, is not only her school's student body vice president, she's also the No. 1 women's high school basketball recruit in the nation.

She told CNN the most memorable day this school year was her birthday, which was also the day she signed on to play at the University of Connecticut.

Though the school year was challenging, Fudd remained positive.

"Looking back, I am grateful that I got all this extra time with my family," she said. "I felt like I have really gotten a great relationship with my brothers over this past year and a half and I wouldn't trade that for anything."


7:49 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Dwyane Wade: "Your belief is stronger than any one doubt"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Former NBA basketball and all-star Dwyane Wade congratulated graduates for making it through a tough year and said that he's excited about their future.

"Throughout this pandemic it has been tough for our entire world. And for you guys to persevere and to be here on this day, on graduation, it's an amazing feat. And so, I am excited about the future. You guys have been a future of this world. I'm excited about our future leaders, and just understand that your belief is stronger than any one doubt, and so continue to keep going, continue to keep striving, be amazing and congratulations," Wade said.


7:44 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Russell Wilson tells 2021 graduates to "commit to your vision"

NFL quarterback Russell Wilson told 2021 graduates that now they have a chance to "commit to your vision."

"To me, see, vision isn't about what you plan to do or what you hope to do. Vision is about what you're called to do. When you're living with vision, you're not just being successful, you're achieving exactly what you were put on this Earth to achieve," he said.  

He said that to "live with vision" you have to have discipline, be resilient and have faith.

"Don't just think about the life you'll lead, think about the lives you'll change. Class of 2021, what's your vision?" Wilson said. 

Hear more:

7:39 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Shaq's 4 pieces of advice for graduating seniors

Basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal — who has four degrees of his own, including a doctorate in education — gave four pieces of advice to the class of 2021.

Here they are:

  1. "Be open to change," O'Neal said, adding that graduates are about to enter the real world, where they'll have to "start all over."
  2. "Do not hide from mistakes," O'Neal said. "Before you succeed, you must first learn to fail."
  3. O'Neal said new graduates might fail repeatedly, but he urged them to "keep moving forward — no matter what."
  4. O'Neal urged new graduates to surround themselves with smart people and to "learn from everything."

Watch the moment:

7:30 p.m. ET, May 23, 2021

Jessica Alba: "Now more than ever, the world, the planet needs you to push for the greater good" 

Actress Jessica Alba told the 2021 graduating class that while this year "may not have gone as you expected, my hope for you is to focus on entering this exciting moment in your life." 

"So as you enter this new chapter, I encourage you to use this opportunity you've worked so hard for to find your purpose and make it part of everything that you do," she said. 

She told graduates: "Now more than ever, the world, the planet needs you to push for the greater good." 

Watch here: