There was hardly a dry eye in the packed gymnasium at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility as E.V. accepted his bachelor’s degree on stage.
E.V.’s achievement and motivational speech capped a celebration on June 26 for 25 MacLaren youth who received either high school diplomas, GED certificates, a barbering license certification, or college degrees.
“You should be happy with the perseverance it took to get to this point,” E.V., who earned his bachelor’s from Portland State University, told the graduates. “It takes a lot. I know what it feels like to come in from the streets into high school and you don’t really want to do it, but you guys did it and you should be proud of that.”
Ezequiel received his degree from Matt Carlson, interim dean of PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who prefaced his presentation with words of praise for all the graduates.
“I want to acknowledge how inspiring it is to be in a room with so many young men who worked so hard to get an education in difficult circumstances,” he said. “Education is not just a matter of something for the elite. Education is something for everybody. If you continue and have a desire, we have a way.”
A.E.V. and J.H. received associate degrees from Chemeketa Community College.
The graduation ceremony at MacLaren began with a speech from A.V., who went from high school dropout to valedictorian of MacLaren’s Lord High School.
“Being here hasn’t been the easiest and we all know that, but it’s the hope of a successful future that we wake up to every morning that keeps us striving for more,” he said. “We’ve all started from the very bottom and climbed our way to the top. Most of us never thought graduating was possible; I know, I felt like this. … From all the support these teachers have given us, it gave me a whole different view on how I see things in life. We’re very lucky to have the support system that we do have.”
Graduates also heard from Olympic medalist and decathlete Dave Johnson, who recounted how he changed his life around following an adolescence of committing petty thefts and scoring low grades. After he discovered football and then track during his senior year of high school in Corvallis, he went on to set records in the decathlon and track and field events, even earning a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics despite an injured foot.
“Obstacles are small to a person who knows that success is a choice,” he said. “Learning to choose is a success in itself.”
After the ceremony, the nine GED recipients, 12 high school graduates, one new licensed barber and three college graduates gathered with their families, teachers, and staff at a celebratory reception in the visiting center.
“I’m very happy to be here – I never thought I could do it. I’m the first person in my family to graduate. … I wanted something better for myself and my life. A lot of staff and friends here really saw potential in me; they saw something in me I didn’t see for myself, and they made it possible for me to want something better for myself.” – H.D.
“I feel like there’s so much OYA has to offer, and it sounds crazy to say, but I’m glad for being here, you know? Especially who I was before. … I feel like some of these guys should be given a second chance. From where I’ve been, I made a huge 180, and I’m past that. … It’s just growth and progress. – J.K.
“There were a lot of times in school when I was really a knucklehead. … My mom passed away in December, and I realized, “Man, I have nothing to show my mom. I need to be the man she shoulda seen five years ago, six years ago. So that really gave me the will to keep on pushing and finish. I was really getting discouraged because it was hard to graduate – but I said I’m not going to give up – that’s the easy way out. I’m strong-minded and I’m going to keep going.” – T.S., who earned both a high school diploma and GED and is already working on an associate degree, majoring in communications