Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com
Liza Mosley beamed with pride Tuesday as her daughter was honored at the 15th annual Boston Public Schools Valedictorians Luncheon.
“This is a wonderful event to celebrate the accomplishments of the students who worked so hard for this,” said Mosley, 53, who lives in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester. “It’s not easy in the city.”
Her daughter, Nakia Ellies, was one of about three dozen valedictorians gathered alongside parents, siblings, educators, and city officials to celebrate their achievements within the butter-colored walls of the formal Wharf Room at the Boston Harbor Hotel.
The event will be the last of its kind for Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson and for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who have both announced plans to leave office.
Menino received a standing ovation as he entered the room on crutches, having suffered several health issues in recent months and announced in March that he would not run for re-election for that reason. The mayor’s doctor said Monday that he will undergo elective prostate surgery.
Menino declared the luncheon one of his favorite events of the year and drew attention to the diversity of the backgrounds of the high-achieving students, many of them immigrants.
“Nineteen of you were born outside of the United States, in places like the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Haiti, Morocco, Colombia, Nigeria,” Menino said. “Now you’re going to places like MIT, the University of Mass, Union, Harvard, Providence, and Boston University.”
Johnson, who announced plans to retire following the recent death of her husband, said the valedictorians present were “the smartest kids in the entire world, not just in Boston.” She lauded their hard work and diligence in going beyond what was expected of them.
“The students in this room have just put in extra hours every single day,” Johnson said. “They’ve taken more Advanced Placement courses and done well in them. They’ve kept their grade point averages very high.
“They’ve attended school every day, even when the weather wasn’t great or when they were tired. They’ve competed in sports and in arts and in our urban debate league,” she said. “And I’ve had the good fortune to watch them, and watch them grow, and learn with them.”
“In my four years, I was not only able to find the confidence I needed to speak in front of people, but also to display the academic promise I had kept quiet for a very long time,” he said.
It was a doubly special day for Mosley, who attended the luncheon with her daughter Nakia Ellies, valedictorian at the Urban Science Academy in West Roxbury, and with Nakia’s twin, Nadia Ellies. The single mother said both daughters have recently received scholarships and awards for their academic achievements and public service, and both are headed to college in the fall.
Nakia and Nadia are the youngest of Mosley’s seven children, who all have gone on to college after graduation. The twins said education was always a priority in their family, but they didn’t feel pressured to live up to older siblings’ achievements.
“I feel like more than pressure, it’s more support, rather than having family that never went to college,” Nadia said.
Nakia plans to attend Boston University and to focus on human physiology in preparation for medical school and a career in pediatrics. Nadia plans to enter UMass Amherst in the fall to prepare for a career in education, with a particular focus on policy reform in public schools.
“Coming from a private school in Connecticut to a public school in Boston, I’ve seen a lot of what could be changed in both schools,” she said.
Despite her accomplishments as valedictorian, Nakia was hesitant to say she was proud. “I feel like I was just doing what I have to do,” she said.
Nadia said this reaction was typical of her sister: “I always say I’m proud of her, and she always says, ‘For what?’”
Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com