I've photographed plenty of high school graduations before, but they've all be out in the suburbs. Watching a group of genuine city-of-Chicago kids take the rite of passage into adulthood was something different — and worth seeing. "Many of us here come from households who don't have as many opportunities as other people might have," National Honor Society member Valerie Diaz told her classmates. "Some of us are undocumented, while others are fighting money problems. Yet many of us will be the first to graduate from high school in our families. "Many of our parents told us 'Ponte las pilas,' which literally means put the batteries in,'" she continued. "After everything that has happened, we are all in the same room because of what we have accomplished these past four years." "We just proved ourselves today by walking down this stage, so it’s time we go for everything they said we couldn’t have" said Jessica Hererra. "Now it’s time to take action. We are the voice of our people and of future generations, so it’s up to us to see what we do." "We don't know we have unconditional love until we need it," Selena Antunez said in the Reflection speech. "I learned that everything we do doesn't only affect us but the people around us, too. We have all learned to appreciate the people who care for us a little more, now that we are all grown up."
They had been here once before — it was their vow renewal ceremony, not their wedding — but Mark and Tina did something I'd never seen previously, in any service of this sort.
Mark and Tina took their oaths 20 years ago, and renewed them at the United Lutheran Church of Oak Park. The bridesmaids and groomsmen from the original ceremony all had this day off, though: the only two people standing with the couple were their children, Andrew and Alyssa.
In a standard ceremony, that would mean that no one outside the immediate family would receive any recognition. Mark and Tina, however, had a remarkably uncommon agenda...
In the middle of the ceremony, the couple grabbed the microphone, turned around, said they were going to break some of the rules, and addressed their guests. Mark and Tina took turns — and several minutes — giving detailed thank-yous to family members and close friends. The bride and groom shared with a crowd of around 200 about a few of the people who had stood at their sides 20 years ago, and had remained there through the decades and trials that have followed.
I haven't a clue what this couple spent putting their vow renewal together, but they did it so that, at its high point, they could shift their gather friends' attention from themselves to some of the people they felt indebted to. I've never seen a bride and groom use their ceremony for that purpose before, but I hope to see it again.