06/27/19– by C. Jean Grover
On a beautiful, warm June day, eight young people from the Villa of Hope School proudly claimed their spots as members of the Class of 2019.
Like so many high school graduations taking place this time of year, in many ways, this day was no different for our youth. But the reality is that for our kids, often the years have brought worry, upheaval, and uncertainty about their futures. And this Villa graduation was a triumph.
The ceremony started with the Star Spangled Banner, performed by the school choir; and it continued with a resounding message of pride in students who had come such a very long way. As Kelly Walker, Director of Education stated at the beginning, "While some of you may have wondered over the years if these eight students would make it ... they made it!"
Among the small classes in the Villa's day school, whose students come in from the community for specialized educational services, 10 students in grades 9-12 made the Honor Roll in the past year, and 5 of those consistently were Honor Roll students for all four quarters. 25 students passed NY State Regents examinations.
Success after success, our youth came to the podium to receive recognition for their journeys. Katie M. was the recipient of the Greece Rotary Scholarship, based on character and academic achievement, presented by past Rotary President, Pattie Anthony.
The American Red Cross Blood Services High School Scholarship Award was presented by Allison Parker, to Andrew S., for his signicant contributions to Villa Blood drives, which, as Allison stated, had brought in enough donations this year to save 128 lives.
In a heartfelt speech, socal worker Cheri King presented Justin S. with the Anderson Achievement Award. This award, in honor of a Villa student who had demonstrated perseverance in achieving his high school diploma, mirrors Justin's diligence in his own graduation achievement.
This year's honored guest speaker was Jessica Lewis, Communications Specialist for ROC the Future at the Children's Agenda. Her speech was to the point, and just what the students needed to hear, as she congratulated this year's graduates: Mackenzie B., Rosa K., Katie M., Sadie M., Kathryn M., Katie P., Andrew S., and Justin S.
One graduate in particular, Mackenzie B., was presented with the Webster Central School District SEPTA Scholarship, for Citizenship, Scholastic Achievement, Personal Growth, and Community Involvement. Many may recogize her as "the face of the Villa," the young woman whose image has been on the cover of the Villa's general services brochure since 2018. She has, among many other achievements, participated in several Villa marketing photo sessions, with the generous intent of having her photo assist in the Villa's outreach to the community.
Mackenzie's journey has been difficult, and with great emotion, her social worker, Kerri Wemett would present her with two more awards during the ceremony. As Kerri recounted, "I am so very, very proud of this young lady, who was going through such a difficult time, only one year ago." Mackenzie went on to receive the NY State Comptroller's Student Achievement Award, for academic excellence, and the Avalon Achievement Award for her extraordinary ascent.
By the end of the ceremony, she had more awards, along with her diploma, than she could hold, and had to ask her friend, Seven, to help her display them!
The ceremony was capped off with the world premiere of "The Villa Song," music and lyrics by Villa youth, under the direction of Music Teacher, Ms. Madhumita Sen. Choir members were: Jeffrey D., Kyle E., Soo Ho H., Seven L., Scott W., Ms. Caley, Mr. Curtin, and Ms. Rowley.
Eight young people walked away with high school diplomas that day, but more importantly, memories of hurdles conquered, sadness and hopelessness left behind, and life embraced anew. Congratulations, Class of 2019!
For more photos, check out our Facebook album.