Students selected from each of the eight high schools on St. Thomas were honored Friday during the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas’ annual service commemorating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The eight students were nominated by their school principals or guidance counselors to receive the special recognition based on inspirational essays they had written, which were shared during Friday’s service. In acknowledgement of their motivating words each student received a scholarship and a copy of a book titled “Shared Dreams.”
More than 100 people crowded into the synagogue, placed shoulder to shoulder, clapping and hollering as the honored students delivered their speeches about their personal inspirations and contributions to the Virgin Islands community.
“In school my parents’ generation were taught to tolerate each other. My generation is told to accept everyone. However, I have come to realize that tolerance and acceptance are not the same as love and appreciation. When we teach all people to love and respect their neighbor, the promised land Dr. King spoke of with all of his abundant life, liberty and happiness will be truly ours,” said Anika Hahnfeld of Antilles School.
Hahnfeld told the audience that, as Americans we have a moral obligation to help our nation see that all people have value to society and are vital to its success.
“When we teach love and compassion, we will make it our mission to enact meaningful gun reform legislation to stop the proliferation of guns which have long terrorized families,” Hahnfeld said. “When we teach love and compassion, we will happily make the economic sacrifices to develop creative and viable alternatives to fossil fuels to combat the devastating effects of climate change … When we teach love and compassion, equal pay for the same work no matter one’s gender or race, it will not just be the law of the land but will actually be a reality.”
Other students also shared their ideas.
Ayanna Anthony of Charlotte Amalie High School said she altered her dream to better her community. Once planning to be a music producer, she said she had always imagined leaving the islands for the states. Now she has reconsidered, planning to come back after her college education and teach music to the territory’s youth.
Gifft Hill School student Tashani Williams took a stance on homelessness.
“Money is not like milk and honey” and will not solve the problem of rumbling bellies come nightfall, she said. She told the audience, which included several senators, “trash can be made into anything” and said a lack of imagination is what causes the territory’s landfills to overflow.
Caroline Gaskin, of the V.I. Montessori School and Peter Gruber International Academy, said autonomy, the right of self-government, builds a person’s confidence in themselves and their surrounding community.
Also recognized for their ideas were: Alexa Comissiong of All Saints Cathedral School, Laurence Lake of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, Se-An Rawlins of Seventh-day Adventist School and Brandon Boodram of Saints Peter & Paul Catholic School.
After the near three-hour service adjourned, attendees celebrated at a reception held across the street from the synagogue at Lilienfeld House.