Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Overcoming the Odds - A Graduation to Remember

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By: Paris Adon, Principal of the Kennedy School

It’s been two weeks since the last day of school in Washington, DC!  All around our area, the school year is winding down and summer break has begun.  Volunteers recently came to do some sprucing up in our hallways as part of the CCDC Summer of Service.  But me?  I’m still thinking about our recent graduation.

At Catholic Charities, we were so proud to be celebrating 3 Kennedy School graduates: DeAndra Brown, Imani King and Christena Juhans.  For each of these students, the path to reach this remarkable milestone was at times a steep, uphill climb.  At some point in their lives, these students were told that they would never graduate from anywhere or anything.  I couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments and excited for these students and the futures that await them.  All of them will be attending adult education programs following graduation.

Some people say that the Kennedy School is a unique place.  Our student body is comprised of 31 students between the ages of 6-22 years old.  We specialize in serving students with a variety of disabilities. But at our core, we are like any other school.  We are working to prepare our students for independence and life beyond graduation.  Our primary goal at the Kennedy School is that every student will graduate with either a job or a post-secondary educational opportunity. 

The scene at graduation was as you’d expect—high excitement!  Friends and family everywhere!  Caps, gowns, photos!  We’d rehearsed the day before to be sure we were ready.  The entire student body, some alumni, our staff and a large collection of family and friends turned out at the Archdiocese of Washington’s Pastoral Center for the ceremony. Catholic Charities’ CEO Father John Enzler spoke and congratulated our students. 

I was particularly touched when DeAndra’s mom came to hug me and burst into tears on my shoulder.  “Without this school, I don’t know where DeAndra would be.”  Our relationship with DeAndra and his family is long and meaningful.  He’s been a student at Kennedy for 12 years and now lives independently.  He’s been a successful intern at both the Department of the Interior and at Yes! Organic Market.  Deandre himself said, “School is like a family to me and I’m going to miss everyone.”

Imani King, another 2017 graduate, has come so far from when we first met her 2 years ago.  Because of her hard work, she conquered paralyzing social anxiety.  She overcame her fears and learned how to navigate the Metro system and find her way around her internship in the cavernous federal building.  Imani came to Kennedy scared, with a full time personal aide, but moves forward today with the skills, training and confidence to find her own way. 

Christena Juhans had been with Kennedy for 12 years before last week’s graduation.  At graduation, she said to me, “I’ve never been to a graduation before.”  Her success on graduation day was beyond her imagination, but not beyond ours at the Kennedy School.  We believed in her potential, just as we believe in every student at our school.

Her grandmother wanted to attend the ceremony but had no way to get there.  I wasn’t going to let her grandmother miss seeing Christena graduate, so one of our dedicated staff picked her up and drove her to the ceremony.  Her grandmother walked up to me and said, simply, “This school has gone above and beyond for Christena.”

She’s right, and it’s intentional.  We are called to go above and beyond at the Kennedy School.  And in return, our students exceed expectations. We do whatever it takes because that’s what every student deserves.  Our team’s investment, Catholic Charities’ investment, made possible by generous support of our community and partners, is repaid back in spades by the students’ individual achievements and successes.  Seeing them move forward in their own way in the world is a milestone for them, and a monumental achievement for us all.

Here’s to the class of 2017!