Tiny Class – Tremendous Triumph

Posted by on Jun 6, 2013 in News, Stories | 0 comments

It’s high-school graduation season across the Southland, with seniors – often numbering in the hundreds at a single ceremony – happily sending their mortarboards skyward, as throngs of proud family members and friends cheer them on.

Last month, a distinctly different graduation scene unfolded. Specifically, the 2013 graduating class of Hathaway-Sycamores School.

Hathaway-Sycamores' 2013 High School Graduation

Hathaway-Sycamores’ 2013 High School Graduation

The four graduates participated in a highly personalized ceremony. Each student was decked out in a traditional cap and gown, while the venue – Pasadena’s Lake Avenue Church – was decked out with balloons and flowers. As part of the graduation, each teen shared a few words about his experiences at Hathaway-Sycamores School and thanked those who had made a positive difference in their lives by presenting them with flowers. A slideshow, and the presentation of their diplomas concluded the event.

Each graduate also received a personalized poster signed by friends, classmates, family, and school staffers. The morning ceremony was followed by a luncheon at Pasadena’s Mijares Mexican Restaurant, hosted by the Los Altos Auxiliary. The Los Altos Auxiliary – which raises funds throughout the year to support the boys who live in residential treatment at the Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services’ El Nido campus in Altadena – underwrote all costs for the graduation.

Of the graduates, two are enrolled and taking classes at community colleges (Glendale Community College and Pasadena City College), and two have aspirations to join the Navy and Marines.

Andrew Salinas, a charismatic, engaging, and a gifted writer who is currently enrolled at Glendale City College, gave the graduation address and noted that:

“There is no way I would be able to stand here this morning, very proudly and with my head held high, if not for the Hathaway-Sycamores’ staff. Staff had so much patience with me, most especially on the days where I would do everything imaginable to make their day as horrible as possible. I have grown from a punk teenager to a positive young adult. I see the big picture now, and it is truly a masterpiece. Though I may not be ready for what lies ahead, I know I will always be able to turn to the staff at Hathaway-Sycamores. I may no longer be a student there after today, but I know they will always be around to give me advice, guidance and, most importantly, understanding – no matter what. You have no idea how grateful I will always be that no one here ever, ever gave up on me. My accomplishments would have never happened without the help I received here. I’ve learned so many things here. But one of the most valuable is that even though I have my challenges, I have learned to never sell myself short in life.”

Michael Harris, who has essentially grown up in foster care – and currently lives with a foster family, has persevered and looks forward to a bright future. In fact, since January of this year, he has been taking a full course load at Pasadena Community College, where he plans to continue his studies. He noted:

“First, I would like to thank my family for the support and drive to have made it this far. If it was not for my family, I most likely would have dropped out of school years ago, but with their aid I finally graduated and even finished my first semester of college at Pasadena City College. Additionally, I am also the first individual in my biological family to pass high school and to matriculate, at that! My family gave me a drive to be successful in life and to be happy in all I do. Plus, with all of their support, I did what many people said I could not do – I made it.

“Also, I would like to thank my teachers and all the Hathaway-Sycamores’ staff for taking the time to teach at a speed I could understand and for being understanding and giving me much encouragement. Lastly, I hope all my fellow students make something of themselves and prosper. Thank you.”

(Both students’ speeches – in their entirety – appear below.)

Hathaway-Sycamores School is an accredited, non-public school that offers a year-round educational and behavioral program for students with serious emotional disturbances and learning disabilities.

While tiny in number, this 2013 graduating class represents a tremendous triumph over immense adversity.

Andrew Salinas speech:

“Good morning everyone! Glad to see all of you here. Thank you for being here and sharing our special day with us.

“My name is Andrew Salinas. I am 17 years, old and I have been attending the lovely Hathaway-Sycamores School. I started school here in September of 2011. The adjustment from my home school to here was a bit difficult. I wasn’t interested in graduating from a different school. So I fought it. I was disrespectful to practically everyone. But soon after my first year here, I adjusted. I found my place. I belonged here. I was too stubborn to see it at first, staff showing me so much love and me just rejecting it. I was being truly close-minded and very insecure.

“But, as I said, I found my place here. Ms. Rachel always had my back, and even some of the other students looked up to me, that made me feel special. Thus, I realized that if I was going to go around acting like a fool, then I was not going to be a good influence. So, I flipped the switch. And as soon as I did that, everything around me changed. Good vibes started coming from everyone and everywhere. My attitude towards school completely changed. I truly send a heartfelt thanks to staff for that. There is no way I would be able to stand here this morning, very proudly and with my head held high, if not for the Hathaway-Sycamores’ staff. Staff had so much patience with me, most especially on the days where I would do everything imaginable to make their day as horrible as possible.

“I have grown from a punk teenager to a positive young adult. I see the big picture now, and it is truly a masterpiece. Though I may not be ready for what lies ahead, I know I will always be able to turn to the staff at Hathaway-Sycamores. I may no longer be a student there after today, but I know they will always be around to give me advice, guidance and, most importantly, understanding – no matter what.

“You have no idea how grateful I will always be that no one here ever, ever gave up on me. My accomplishments would have never happened without the help I received here. I’ve learned so many things here. But one of the most valuable is that even though I have my challenges, I have learned to never sell myself short in life. I have had so many multiple doors open for me from my time here, and I know there will be so many more to come. From the bottom of my heart, I love you guys. Thank you. Thank you everyone for never giving up on me and giving me hope for a bright and brilliant future.”

Michael Harris speech:

“First, I would like to thank my family for the support and drive to have made it this far. If it was not for my family, I most likely would have dropped out of school years ago, but with their aid, I finally graduated and even finished my first semester of college at Pasadena City College.

“Additionally, I am also the first individual in my biological family to pass high school and to matriculate, at that! My family gave me a drive to be successful in life and to be happy in all I do. Plus, with all of their support, I did what many people said I could not do – I made it.

“Also, I would like to thank my teachers and all the Hathaway-Sycamores’ staff for taking the time to teach at a speed I could understand and for being understanding and giving me much encouragement. Lastly, I hope all my fellow students make something of themselves and prosper. Thank you.”

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