It may have been a short ceremony at Eastern Oregon Youth Correctional Facility July 12, but the graduation of youth from Monroe High School was still a celebratory affair.
Six youth were honored that morning with a graduation ceremony that featured the acceptance of diplomas as well as a keynote address from Alex Nelson, Oregon Youth Authority’s statewide education coordinator.
“Your windshield is bigger than your rearview mirror,” Nelson reminded the graduates. “Remember, mistakes are a part of life; we are not our mistakes.”
He also encouraged the youth that attitude is everything: “If you think you can and if you think you can’t, then you’re right.”
The event was emceed by new Monroe High School Principal Megan Hunter, who, despite not having worked with these specific graduates, still offered words of praise.
“You did this; no one did this for you,” she reminded them. “For that, you should be proud.”
Graduate Stuart T. admitted that he was, in fact, proud of himself.
“If I can finish this, then I can finish anything,” he said.
Stuart’s mother, sister, and grandmother traveled from Lake Tahoe, where they had been vacationing, to Burns so they could witness his graduation. He said they’re a big part of why he succeeded.
“I was on a pretty bad track,” he said. “Then I wanted to focus more on family, on the important things in life.”
Elijah W.’s family also traveled far to see him accept his diploma: his mother, sister, and stepfather came from Portland to celebrate his achievement. Elijah said he got motivation to pursue his diploma after talking to Stephen K., the first youth in OYA history to pursue a master’s degree while in closed custody. Now Elijah also hopes to take college courses with a focus on wellness.
“Before (coming to OYA), I had all F’s,” Elijah said. “I didn’t think this was possible.”