June is a month of graduations, new beginnings, and second chances. For Fedcap and its family of agencies, this is a time of joyful celebrations, as pre-schoolers graduate from our ESNY child development programs and move on to first grade, teenagers graduate from our Fedcap High School, and adults graduate from our Career Design School. Each of these celebrations is different in its own way, yet the theme of courage, hope and joy is braided through each.
We pause to honor these many graduates because of our conviction that education is the pathway to equity and to long term economic well-being. We know that along with education comes the power of choice. When someone graduates from one of our schools, they are taking a stand and saying: I am in charge of my future. They are saying: I believe in the power of possible in my life.
Our graduates come to us as they are—some are lost, some are angry, some are eager and excited, some are scared, some are homeless, and some come from a legacy of abuse and failure. We embrace, we teach, we train, we believe, and then we all work hard to help them achieve their dreams.
Over 800 five-year olds with varying forms of disability are leaving our pre-schools and entering public school to learn alongside their non-disabled peers. One parent—in tears—at our Valhalla Child Development Center graduation said, “I did not think it was possible. I am starting to believe that my daughter will be viewed by the world as so much more than her disability, but the courageous, smart little girl she is…Easter Seals did that for her.”
And in Manhattan, 150 proud graduates received their diplomas from Fedcap’s Career Design School amidst the raucous cheering of nearly 600 family and friends. Chastity Salas was one of those graduates and embodies their spirit and heart. Because of family struggles and a mentally ill mom, Chastity was homeless. Yet she graduated from the Home Care program and started work. She slept on the subway, dressed in shelters, and did not miss one appointment with her clients. She told her fellow graduates, “I do not intend to paint my homelessness story as a sad and hopeless one. I am not sad nor am I hopeless.” I am in full realization of what I am capable of achieving and becoming… I fully understand that I have to do this for myself and I will.”
When a young person is labeled as a “behavior problem” or defined as “special ed” and shuffled from class to class it is hard to believe that graduation is even possible. Yet at our Fedcap School, eight young people did what most thought impossible…they graduated from high school, and several are going on to college. The cheers of teachers, family members, and fellow students were jubilant—as one graduate put it, “I proved everyone wrong…even myself… I did it!” And now, the world is open to her.
Our graduation is not merely an event, but it is a portal to possibilities that were once just distant hopes.
Chastity’s message to her fellow graduates was this: “Good, better, best, never let it rest until your good gets better and your better gets best. It doesn’t matter how old you are—never give up.”
Join me in congratulating our classes of 2016.