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Graduation caps tell us so much about the journeys of our graduates.  There are so many stories to share about our One Hundred and Fifty 2023 Graduating Seniors.  This group of students persevered through so many challenges individually and collectively as they navigated high school in the midst of the Pandemic.  This graduating class was in 9th grade when COVID closed our schools.  It was not until almost two years later, Spring of their Junior year, when they were able to re engage in uninterrupted in-person learning.  In spite of the many challenges they faced, this group of young people adapted and persevered.  This blog is in honor of them and all they have accomplished.  Hats off to our 2023 Graduates!

In June, we honored our Graduating Class of 2023. Building 21 Allentown celebrated at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown. And Philadelphia celebrated at the Independence Seaport Museum in downtown Philadelphia. Some of the their many accomplishments included:

Building 21 Philadelphia

      • Of the 47 School District of Philadelphia High Schools, Building 21 ranked in the top 10 for school attendance
      • All graduates successfully completed at least one internship
      • 50% of graduating seniors successfully completed at least one advanced class (dual enrollment/honors or AP)
      • 50% of students earned an industry recognized credential
      • Students from the graduating class were accepted into over 40 colleges and universities
      • 62% of students plan to go directly to a two or four year college or university, 10% deferred acceptance for one year and 20% plan to go into the military, trade school or the workforce

Building 21 Allentown

      • 100% of all graduates you have been accepted into a 2 or 4-year college
      • 50% of this graduating class has successfully completed at least one advanced course (Dual Enrollment/Honors or AP)
      • Collectively, Graduates have written 171 Argumentative Essays, conducted 355 Scientific Investigations, and given 312 Presentations.
      • Outside of our classroom walls, this class has provided over 3,000 community service hours during their time at Building 21 High School.
      • 1 in 5 graduates entered the Allentown School District as speakers of languages other than English and are exiting with proficiency in English and at least one other language.
      • 97% of the eligible members of the Class have registered to vote. They earned the Governor’s Civic Engagement Award for the 5th year in a row

Impactful speeches

Inspirational words are a must for a graduation ceremony. Read excerpts from our Allentown school leader’s and Philadelphia commencement speaker’s speeches.

“I am so incredibly humbled and honored to have been invited to speak to you all on this momentous occasion! When your Assistant School Leader Ms. Comunale called to say that I had been nominated by members of this class, I was floored - speechless - stunned. The magnitude of the importance of this achievement in your lives is not lost on me. So I thank you so much for this honor.”

Chris TemproFormer Building 21 Allentown Teacher and Commencement Speaker

“People will put a time limit on your accomplishments and will give critiques regarding what they deem as successful. However if those people haven’t even walked an inch in your shoes their input should never affect how you want to live your life. Some of you have gone the last four years never hearing these words, but today I want all of you to know that I am so extremely proud of all of you, for beating the odds, and taking control of your future. Please continue to invest in yourself, and never let anyone tell you what you can’t do.”

Tori HoltBuilding 21 Class of 2019, Temple University Class of 2023

“I just want to say that I am so proud at how far this high school journey has led the class of 2023. We all uplifted each other through the striking trials and tribulations of our high school experience. We lived, we worked and we laughed through the struggle together to look forward to a time such as this one. My peers and I knew not to dwell on change, but instead to work with the change and believe in ourselves to conquer the change so that it would not beat us in the long run. Here we are!”

Laron AllenBuilding 21 Philadelphia Class of 2023 Valedictorian

Graduate Spotlight: Marilyn Arisa, Valedictorian, Allentown Class of 2023

Marilyn Arisa, the 2023 Building 21 Allentown class valedictorian, exemplifies a remarkable commitment to excellence in academics and athletics. Throughout high school, Marilyn sought out challenges and excelled in both arenas.

In 11th grade, she joined the Early College program at Building 21 Allentown, making the Dean’s List for two years in a row. Simultaneously, Marilyn showcased her passion for soccer at Dieruff High School, earning the Girls’ MVP title and the esteemed Husky Pride Award. Despite her rigorous soccer schedule, she managed to excel academically, graduating from high school with an Associates degree.

Recognizing her exceptional dedication, Kutztown University awarded Marilyn a full-tuition Board of Governors scholarship to study Business and Marketing. As she embarks on her college journey, we anticipate that Marilyn will continue to shine, leveraging her skills and passion to make a significant impact in her chosen field.

Important Relationships

Relationships are the foundation of Building 21. We’re so proud of our graduates and wish them well as they begin their post-secondary journeys. We can’t wait to see this talented and tenacious group of young people impact their world.


Laura Shubilla is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Building 21. She has spent her career focused on cross-sector, systemic solutions to improve economic and educational outcomes for urban youth.

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