Rice High School held its final commencement Friday evening in Manhattan, as the private all-male Catholic prep school in Harlem is closing its doors after 73 years due to dropping enrollment and financial troubles. NY1’s Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
Bittersweet was the phrase everybody was using Friday night, as 68 young men celebrated their high school graduation at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
It appears that they will be the last students to ever graduate from Rice High School. Bristol Cole Francis, the valedictorian, said they knew the ceremony would have a different tone as soon as they heard the news.
"Because the school was closing, I completely revamped the speech,” said Francis. “I had to make it a lot more meaningful. Before it was more funny. Now it's a lot more serious. It's a very solemn occasion."
The school is known as a basketball powerhouse. Especially recently, when Rice alumnus Kemba Walker brought the University of Connecticut to the NCAA basketball championship.
At the graduation, however, the focus was on the school's strong academics. All of the graduates plan to go to college in the fall.
"It's not so much about the team, it's about the students academically and what they achieve there,” said basketball coach Floyd Branch. “Rice has taught these young men to be responsible, caring young men in the community. And these kids are going to miss a place that made them men."
"They put me on academic probation. So I felt like they was challenging me,” said Hyisheem Calier, a graduate. “And I am always up for a challenge. I am very competitive. So when they challenged me, I said, you know what? I'm gonna get honors."
For one family, it was a particularly sad night. Nathan Allsbrooks was shot to death three years ago and would have graduated with this class. His parents still came to remember their son, support his friends and support the school.
"With the loss of my son, with the school closing, the support of all the friends and family here who picked me up and carried me through these three years that have just been devastating,” said the father, Nathan Allsbrooks. “I really thank the support of them but this is going to be a tough night, a tough, tough night."
A group of parents and teachers is trying to organize to keep the school open. They say they want to at least allow the current students to graduate so they too can have a night like this.