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Cultural Cornerstones
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Saturday
Jul082017

2017 YouthLink Graduation - a Cause for Celebration

Article by Claudia Kittock, Photos by Danae Hudson

YouthLink Executive Director Dr. Heather Huseby addresses the graduates.

Wherever I work, I always look forward to graduation.  Each and every student has a story that was part of this moment in their lives. I am often honored to know many of those stories, and it is always an inspiring and wonderful moment in my life.

Since becoming a tutor in the GED program at YouthLink, I have begun attending the annual graduation there. If you have never been to one, put it on your calendar for next year. The ceremony is filled with laughter, joy, and enormous pride. These graduates have stories few of us can comprehend, and yet here they are, graduating and life is filled with new possibilities. At the June 14th ceremony, 41 young people graduated from the GED program, high schools, and training programs.

Bianca (pseudonym) was the speaker. I met Bianca when she came to the GED department and announced she wanted her GED and she wanted it fast. She had plans, and not having her GED was getting in her way.  Bianca planned to become a nurse, and she wanted to begin that career by working as a CNA while she finalized her plans for nursing school. Two months was as long as she had to ‘get it done’, and two months later Bianca put a piece of paper in front of me, sat in the chair next to me and grinned from ear to ear. The paper was the certification of a completed GED. When the celebrating died down, I asked her how her family felt.  She said, “None of my grandparents graduated from high school, neither of my parents, none of my aunts and uncles, and none of my cousins. I’m the first, and my brother has watched me do this and is now working on his GED. Things get better when you work hard.” Graduation was on a Wednesday afternoon, and Bianca’s first shift at her new job as a nursing assistant was on Monday. Impressed? Inspired? Me too!

Danny graduated too. He was the first student I met at YouthLink. He is a quiet, smart young man who has been on and off the streets for four years. As with all the students I teach, he taught me far more than I have taught him. Danny explained what it was like to experience homelessness, which overpasses were ‘safest’ to sleep under, and how being on the street with a partner was essential. While one person slept, the other kept watch for dangers, and kept track of the time so that neither slept too long in the bitter cold.

When I asked Danny what he wanted to do with his life, he told me he wants to be a chef. He has always cooked for his family and loved the feeling of preparing good food for people he cares for. Every day when I left, Danny said, "Don’t worry about me! You just get home safely.”

Danny is working in a bike shop for the second summer and has learned bike mechanics and repair. He hopes to continue to do that while earning enough money to continue his education. Will he become a chef? It really doesn’t matter what Danny does in his life of work. All of us with children in college know how often those plans can change. What does matter is that this young man is on his journey with more resources than he had before.

If you are interested in making a difference in the lives of these young people, here are some suggestions:
1. Sign up for the newsletter.
2. Learn more about youth homelessness.
3. Sign up for the Night of Hope.
4. Get involved at YouthLink.

Claudia can be reached at claudia@millcitymedia.org

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