On June 8, 2017, the First Children Services Transitions Program graduated our largest class with eight students earning their high school diplomas. On the surface, this graduation looked like any other, students with caps and gowns walking down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance to receive their diplomas while family members and friends snapped photos of the celebration and cheered the students on. This was no ordinary high school graduation, though. These eight students had accomplished more than simply passing four years of high school. At a point in these students’ lives, each of them had struggled with anxiety and school phobia, which prevented them from attending their public school. Some students missed significant amounts of school, falling behind in their classes, while others got by with home instruction. Some of the students and their families believed they would never see a high school graduation day until each of them came to the Transitions Program. Suddenly, the light at the end of the tunnel became clear to them, and the dream of graduation became a reality. Each student’s journey was unique, but they all ended in the same place, the Transitions Program Class of 2017 graduation ceremony. On this special day, nearly 90 friends and family members gathered to watch the eight students proudly achieve what seemed impossible to some of them.
Melissa Langford, Director of Transitional Services, who emceed the event, was joined by the Transitions Program staff in delivering a touching program that made it difficult to keep a dry eye. The audience was greeted by Melissa Langford and watched as the students proudly took that traditional graduation march, taking their spot on the stage. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by graduate, Anthony Davolos, followed by a powerful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, sung by talented sophomore, Matthew Miles. Collin Horn, who was only with us part-time after returning to his public high school for half a day, read the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. Our school social worker, Eric Cherson, who was so instrumental in helping our students cope with their anxiety and challenges, delivered words of inspiration to the students as they looked to their bright futures. Just when you thought the ceremony could not get any more emotional, Matthew Miles sang “You Raise Me Up” in a voice that would have impressed Josh Groban, himself. Eva Haydu, who often served as a mentor to incoming students, read “Life’s Achievements”, an essay she wrote for the occasion. Finally, the moment the students had been waiting for had arrived. High school teacher, Jay Cohen, announced each student’s name as Melissa Langford handed them their diplomas, and in true graduation tradition, moved each student’s tassel from right to left.
Following the ceremony, the students and staff celebrated with family and friends as their journey continued to the next chapter. Ildiko Haydu, Eva Haydu’s older sister, was in tears as she expressed that she “saw Eva develop into a stronger and happier person who made many positive changes and accomplishments over the past few years during her time at the Transitions Program.” Most of the students are furthering their education next year in college or trade school, while several students are taking time off of school to plan their futures. The Transitions Program staff is looking forward to another successful school year in 2017-18.