So, when I sat down to write this thing, I had all of these ideas in my head of what a perfect graduation speech should be like, and I was picturing Lizzie McGuire stumbling across the stage after Kate Sanders calls her out for being an “outfit repeater,” or Troy Bolton talking about how we really are “all in this together." Then I kind of snapped out of it and realized the only graduation speeches I had ever seen were from Disney movies, and it probably wasn’t going to be as easy or comical as they made it seem. So, naturally I went into panic mode for a little bit and scrolled through Google for hours researching perfect speech writing techniques. I eventually calmed down when I realized if anyone was going to care about a pristine alternative high school commencement speech, it for sure wasn’t going to be this group of kids.
Starting now we have more important things to worry about, like financial aid, our careers, or who’s going to give us our weekly kick in the butt when we start slacking, that we all may have complained about, but when really without it, we probably wouldn’t be crossing this stage today. So Marci, Jenna, Vanessa – on behalf of all of us, we can’t even begin to thank you enough for all that you do, not only to keep this program alive, but for caring so much about each of our individual successes and doing whatever it takes to help us get there. You have instilled a new drive and passion toward our education in each of us that will continue on with us in all of our future endeavors.
Speaking of the future, there’s a quote that really struck me when I was reading about “second chances” one day by Steve Blank, a professor at Philadelphia University. He says, “People talk about getting lucky breaks in their careers. I’m living proof that the ‘lucky breaks’ theory is simply wrong. You get to make your own luck. The world is run by those who show up, not those who wait to be asked.” What this made me realize, and what I hope that my fellow classmates will remember as well, is that as much as Gateway to College has seemed like a dream second chance or lucky break to us, we have worked hard to be where we are right now, and that it's okay to glorify your own success. Always be thankful and humble, but also be prideful, as pride can be one of our greatest motivators. Remember that nothing in life is handed to you and you may not always be given a second chance in the future. Take every opportunity that comes to you because you have worked for it and now you're being rewarded.
It goes without saying that High School obviously wasn’t the best years of any of our lives. Whether it was physical or mental illness, family problems, or anything in between, we are all here simply because traditional high school just was not going to work for us, and personally it felt like I went through hell a dozen times and back. To summarize my four year long story in the shortest way possible, the summer going into my sophomore year, I made the decision to move from the high school I had attended the previous year, back to my hometown high school. I had decided that the negative energy and bad influences weren’t good for me to be surrounded by. Late August comes around and school starts again. I ended up getting appendicitis and had to miss the first month in my new school due to surgery. This set me back so far that there was almost no coming back from it, no matter how hard I tried. Still, with every complication, I managed to pass and move on to junior year. However, I was 10 credits short because of my absences due to the surgery. This didn’t worry me too much because Marlborough High has a credit recovery program. With the new school year approaching I put myself in a positive, motivated mindset and was ready to take on whatever came my way. I didn’t expect depression to get thrown at me. The mental illness quickly took over my life in the winter of my junior year. I was suffering in silence because I did not know how to express what was wrong with me and I had convinced myself that it wasn’t fair for anyone else to have to deal with my burdens. I missed school at least once a week and my teachers treated me like I was a nuisance when I asked for extra help.
Once again, I was falling behind. Even though I probably shouldn’t have, by some miracle I passed and made it to senior year. But the depression never got dealt with. Towards the end of my junior year, my family and I experienced an unexpected move to Hudson. My other siblings all had to transfer to Hudson schools, but because I had only one year of school left, they told me I would be allowed to stay and graduate with my classmates. It's the first day of senior year, and I get called into the Vice Principal's office. She tells me that I need to transfer to Hudson High school immediately, that Marlborough doesn’t have school choice and she does not know why I was led to believe I was allowed to stay. This became a huge problem because not only does Hudson High have higher credit and graduation requirements but they have no credit recovery program either. So going into my third high school, I needed to somehow make up the 10 credits I was missing, but also fulfill these new requirements. I signed up for 4, maybe 5 extra classes and was told that even if I passed all of those classes there would be a chance that I still would not have enough credits to graduate on time.
Through all of this my mother was married to an abusive alcoholic. We were living in a seemingly never ending inescapable cycle. In October of 2014 my mom decided enough was enough. We had no choice but to leave, for our own safety, with no money and where to go, and became homeless for almost 4 months. So with being homeless, having depression, and dealing with extra classes, my life was a bit of a mess. It interfered with my school work because I was always so worried about what was going to happen next and I did not have a reliable computer or internet. Not to mention, Hudson High did not know how to properly accommodate someone in such a rare situation. I was falling even more behind. Although I wasn’t going to graduate on time, or with my class, I had accepted the reality of my situation, and decided to make use of the resources available to me and, finish at my own pace.
That's when Gateway to College came into my life. Both semesters I have spent here have been very chaotic and filled with a lot of change for my family and I, but at this point we can pretty much handle anything thrown at us. This past semester I was hospitalized for my depression and finally diagnosed. I got the help I needed, but was missing school and falling behind again. After the hospital, I got pneumonia and missed even more school. I almost gave up and just decided to drop out because the universe obviously does not want me getting my diploma. I then decided to take a step back and really look at my situation. If I really wasn’t meant to graduate, I wouldn’t be here in the first place. I looked at everything that was happening to me as a defeatable challenge rather than a block in the road and decided to power through and finish the semester as best I could. Here I am, 4 years later, with a B average GPA, telling you all my story and feeling stronger than ever.
I want to take a minute to thank all of the people who helped me through this long, complicated process of getting my Uxbridge High School diploma, which is ironic because I don't think any of us have ever even set foot in that building. Anyway, to my Dad, thank you for not letting me give up, thank you for having faith in me when I had none in myself and for pushing me to want more for myself. Mom, thank you for being one of the only people who understood how hard school was for me and loving me even on my worst days. To my grandparents, thank you for making it your mission to help me through Gateway. Without your support and rides to class every day, I wouldn't be standing here right now. Lana, Charlotte and Timmy, you three are my sole motivation for everything I do. Whether you guys realize it or not you make me want to be a better person every day. Thank you for being my best friends. To my friends who I’ve known throughout high school, you guys experienced the hell with me so thank you for staying by my side no matter what I was going through. Lastly, to the friends that I have met through and since starting the program 2 semesters ago, thank you for being the most accepting, down to earth group of people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I felt more accepted with my peers here at QCC within a few weeks of knowing them than I ever did with 4 years of my classmates at “real” high school.
Anyways, enough sappy stuff before Jenna starts crying…
To the class of 2016, despite every obstacle the universe may have thrown at us during this journey, our pasts our behind us and we’ve finally made it. You have finally made it. Congratulations!