"A Tribute"


By: Candi CdeBaca, delivered on Saturday, May 27th, 2017 at Joyce Davis Auditorium, Manual High School


This year our Project VOYCE’s Co-Founder & Co-Executive Director, Ms. Candi CdeBaca was given the honor of being a keynote speaker for Manual High School’s 2017 Graduation. Candi is a 2004 Manual Alumna and credits the founding of Project VOYCE to her experiences as a first-generation high school graduate from Manual. Please enjoy the thoughts and emotions she shared with her fellow Thunderbolts. While her words were specifically tailored to her Manual family, most of the wisdom is applicable to any and all graduates in the times we are living in today (live link).

“Good morning Bolts and Congratulations on making it to these seats! This is truly the most beautiful sight looking out at your beautiful faces...looking out at OUR COMMUNITY beaming with pride and hope. When Manual re-opened after its closure in 2006 I vowed to come to every graduation ceremony from then forward to celebrate the legacy we and so many others fought to preserve. I am honored to have the opportunity to be with you AND share a piece of my heart with you today. My heart is is very full and very proud to be a fellow TBolt today.

13 years ago, when I sat where you are now, I hadn’t imagined the role Manual would come to play in my life. I graduated three years after Manual’s soul was shattered into the pieces of 3 separate schools and two years before they attempted to sweep up and toss out the remnants forever. As a first generation high school graduate like many of you----being a Thunderbolt has been one of the identities that has had the single most profound influence on my life. When I was in your seat, I remember feeling like graduation was my great escape.

I had been told all my life to do well----Graduate----and go to college so that I could get out of the hood.I actually believed that narrative…. that I could ONLY do well if I left our 'hood'. Two degrees and 13 years later: I know now that they were all wrong.

You all must do well NOT so we can leave our hood but RATHER so we can TAKE OVER our hoods. They are our inheritance and we cannot let another generation pass us by without claiming what is rightfully ours---That is not to say don’t leave for awhile. Go!

See the world, expose yourself to every idea, city, state, country, community, person and opportunity that the Universe gives to you. Soak it in with your heart and mind wide open. It will give you all of the experience and knowledge you need to come home and be the leaders of your community that we need NOW more than ever.

In 2004 as a graduate in your seats, I did not know about our rich Manual history.

  • I did not know that I shared the honor of being a Manual graduate with the FIRST Black Valedictorian in DPS history, Ms. Zipporah Joseph in 1901.
  • I did not know that Manual was the school that cultivated three black student leaders who, in 1924, led the first challenge to DPS’s segregation policies….a challenge they ultimately won in the Colorado Supreme Court.
  • I did not know that Manual was the school that gave birth to the notion of “brotherhood” across race and ethnicities as the most diverse school of the 1930s.
  • I did not know that Manual was the high school with the most future Tuskegee Airmen graduates in the country.
  • I did not know that Manual was the school that was the home of DPS’s first black teacher Mr. Gilbert Cruter in 1947,
  • Or DPS’s first Japanese-American teacher--- Ms. Shyoko Toda-Hiraga in 1949,
  • Or the first black principal in Colorado---Mr. James Ward in 1966,
  • Or  DPS’s first black female high school principal---Mrs. Linda Bates Transou in 1986.
  • I didn’t know and I hadn’t internalized the power and majesty of what I TOO was now apart of.
  • Manual has produced Denver’s ONLY two Black Mayors---Wellington Webb and Michael Hancock, a national Latino civil rights freedom fighter---Corky Gonzales, and other leaders at the highest levels of government, cultural icons, and of course… the most special of all, the promise of greatness that will unfold in each of YOU.

The Thunderbolt family perseveres like no other community in this City.

Every day YOU challenge the status quo just by being you…by facing and overcoming adversity with grace...purpose…and determination. Society might have other ideas about you….And the only way to resist is to have YOUR OWN ideas and a critical consciousness. Dream big; think for yourself; and KNOW what from what dynasty you have emerged. Don’t wait for anyone or anything to give you the world you want. YOU are what we have all been waiting for. YOU have the right and the capacity to shape a better world for all of us. You are lucky to be living in such a pivotal time in history. The time is ripe for the talent and passion I have witnessed in each of you.

I have watched your cohort stage Sit-Ins, Reformulate American Lit Curricula, Rebuild a World Class Theater Program, Lead Political Movements, Embrace Community and Re-Ignite School Pride that they tried to Extinguish. You are WELL equipped to take on the world. Use your critical eye to understand and deconstruct the forces acting upon your lives and communities always. Reject the systems that will try to keep us on a hamster wheel of oppression. Know when you are consenting to your own oppression and transfer your energy to empowering yourself and others. Refuse to buy into the games of divide and conquer that force us to do the dirty work for systems that benefit from our division. Reject the false idea that we are competing against each other for anything. We can create a new world when we look beyond the false divisions and see our future bound up in each others’....We are MUCH stronger together and that realization will be the key to our collective liberation.

Add YOUR voice to the re-shaping of our nation that is occurring right now; question whose voice is missing; reach back and bring the missing voices to the table. And above all, make sure that you NEVER forget where you came from and what you stand for…what WE stand for….and what our ANCESTORS have died for.

Whether you feel it or know it right now or not, YOU have a connection to your ancestors, it runs through your blood no matter how much the world tries to make you forget it…it is eternal, copied in your DNA.

We are Queens and Kings and our histories began LONG before slavery and colonization. I say it again because it is the most important thing I will tell you today…NEVER forget where you have come from, NEVER forget the person sitting next to you. The day we stand together is the day we step into power that cannot be matched…and that is the day we can shape the world our ancestors dreamt for us.

YOU are a Thunderbolt.

Strike on...brightly, loudly, proudly...And Like lightning itself, forge a bold new path through the clouds, and light the way for those to come...and ALWAYS do it the Manual way, with a BANG!  

Congratulations Class of 2017 and welcome to the Revolution!”