One of the most momentous occasions in life is graduation from high school. Many of us see this as a very achievable milestone — predictable and expected. However, for others, graduating from high school is not a given. For example, California graduation rates in 2015-2016 for students in foster care was just over 50 percent, at 50.08 percent. Students who fail to graduate from high school are more likely to be poor, unemployed, become parents prematurely and are at risk of becoming addicted to alcohol or substance use. Failure to achieve this milestone is a predictor for homelessness or incarceration.
Even for those who do graduate, high school graduation more and more is considered insufficient as a basis for a successful future. Many municipalities are considering extending “high school” to include grades 13 and 14 in order to provide a better foundation for the success of its young people.
Many students from stable homes experience obstacles in high school. When you layer onto these challenges, traumas rooted in abuse and neglect, a childhood spent in foster care, poverty, diagnosed learning challenges and mental health issues, the odds of achieving this most elemental milestone is only made more difficult.
For the five students who graduated from the Hillsides Education Center yesterday, receiving a high school diploma after overcoming any number of traumas and challenges was a good indicator that more likely than not, in spite of other hardships they may encounter, they will do well. One of the graduates summed up his attitude quoting the hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, “Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes but they don’t quit.” The quote resonates for one of the graduates, Daniel, a young man who years ago resolved to never quit.
Daniel was not able to read until he was in middle school; a childhood spent in foster care and multiple schools disrupted his academic success. But then, at 11, an interest in Batman comic books made him determined to learn to read. Within a few years, he was mastering the complexities of the Harry Potter series. When Daniel, now 18, arrived at Hillsides Education Center (HEC) as a high school freshman, he was asked to become a peer tutor in the school’s Reading Rocks program for underperforming readers. For the last several years, Daniel has tutored students at HEC a few times a week, becoming one of the most dependable and sought-after tutors. After graduating from high school, he plans on becoming a teacher or a teacher’s aide.
As this story illustrates, the graduation yesterday was a wonderful celebration that acknowledges the achievements of the graduates. The ceremony also recognizes the dedication of their teachers and counselors and the commitment of their family and friends to their success. Together we have much for which to be proud. Our hope is that what these graduates have achieved will lessen the poor odds many young people confront today, and that this is just one step in a great journey for them.