Wednesday, July 18, 2012

‘This is the beginning, not the end’

Before Thursday, June 14, Angela B. was the only one of her mother’s nine children not to have graduated from high school. Walking across the stage to finally receive her diploma at the Academy of Hope graduation ceremony, her smile said all her family needed to know. “I told my mom that instead of saying eight of your children have a high school diploma, now you can say that all nine of them have one,” she said.  Now, Angela plans to continue her education with the goal of becoming a substance abuse counselor.
Angela poses for her graduation portrait.
            Angela was in good company at the ceremony, held in Crawford Hall in North East, DC. In an auditorium crowded with proud graduates, their beaming family members and a whole network of support in the Academy of Hope staff and volunteer faculty, everyone had a reason to be proud.  Introducing the graduates, Executive Director, Lecester Johnson, quoted the Shel Silverstein poem “Woulda-Coulda-Shouda,” in which “…those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas/All ran away and hid/From that one little Did.”
            “Standing in front of me are a whole bunch of ‘Dids,’” Johnson said. It was not an easy road for a lot of the graduates here tonight…and it is one thing to say ‘I ‘woulda coulda shoulda’ done it’, it’s another thing to have actually succeeded.”
             As each student was introduced and was presented withtheir diploma, there were plenty of success stories to go around.  Twenty-four of the 27 graduates were present to walk across the stage to receive their GED certificates or high school diplomas.    The audience heard from graduate Antonette R., who remembered returning to her classes at Strive for Success, the STRIVE DC-Academy of Hope joint youth-focused GED program, a mere two days after giving birth to her son. She was getting ready to go to class on the day her contractions began, but soon realized that she would have to go to the hospital. “The first thing I did…was call my teachers from the hospital to tell them I can’t make it,” she said. She had her baby and went right back to studying – she was determined to not let anything get in the way of her obtaining her high school diploma.
            For Mary C., graduating from Academy of Hope with her high school diploma after 17 years of hard work means that she can get back on track with a career in child development or education—a plan that has been on her radar for a while. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” she said. She had worked with preschoolers before and the fact that she didn’t have her high school diploma held her back.  Now, armed with one following her long awaited and well deserved graduation from Academy of Hope, she’s looking forward to continuing her education at the University of DC and eventually working in childhood development.
            Throughout the evening, the smiles kept coming. Anthony J. accepted his diploma after being named the ‘social butterfly’ by his presenter. Four students received attendance awards for their dedication to coming to class and Tony Y. received the “I Can Fly” award for his hard work in class and great help outside the classroom. Several other students received the industry recognized Internet and Computer Core Certification (IC3) certificates, which will greatly help them in their further pursuits of either college or a job.  Eugene Thompson, a former volunteer, opened the ceremony with a passionate take on “You Raise Me Up.”
June 2012 Academy of Hope graduates with Executive Director, Lecester Johnson.
This day means the fulfillment of so many dreams,” Academy of Hope’s co-founder, Marja Hilfiker said. Whether it means closure after a lifetime of striving for a high school diploma or the extra boost that a young person needed to get to college, for the students, teachers and families at the graduation, Thursday was more than a day to celebrate their achievements. It was the beginning of a lifetime full of continued success.

By Martha Shanahan, volunteer writer for Academy of Hope