published Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Clif: Celebrate graduates’ tenacity,optimism

By Dr. Clif Cleaveland

They will march in various graduation ceremonies, duly receiving their high school diplomas. One or two will give valedictory addresses. Some will be listed in programs as members of academic honor societies.

The details of their individual accomplishments may be known only to their immediate families and academic advisors. I’ve had the privilege recently of becoming acquainted with their remarkable achievements. Their names are omitted for privacy.

Each student has maintained a high academic average in demanding courses. Where available, each has taken advanced placement and honors courses. The majority have exhausted the course options of their high schools. Several have earned 4.0 graade-point averages throughout their high school careers.

The majority came from homes presided over by a single adult, usually a mother, sometimes a grandmother or foster parent. That adult stands invariably as a role model for the children of the family. The students are Caucasian, black, Hispanic and Asian- American. They have been witnesses to painful divorces and losses of homes. Sometimes violence has intruded upon their earlier years. Sometimes a parent has been incarcerated or hobbled by mental illness.

Economic hardship is common. The family’s presiding adult may hold two part-time jobs, sometimes facing grave uncertainty when laid off from one. Unemployment may force relocation to homes of other family members.

Some of the students have coped with chronic illness.

Jobs for the students are common, with work schedules up to 20 hours per week. A couple of students are self-supporting. Employment ranges from fast-food restaurants to clothing and grocery stores.

Some have carved out time for sports, excelling in a range of activities from volleyball to softball to baseball. Some have spent after school hours in a variety of volunteer activities — tutoring younger students, raising awareness and money for charitable drives, participating in church choirs and community organizations. Camaraderie is a prized aspect of their athletic and extracurricular activities.

Friendships are prized. On occasion, some of these students have provided support for close friends in harrowing circumstances such as childbirth. A teacher or counselor becomes a trusted and vital navigator through uncertain times, whether academic or personal. These are attributes of teachers that go largely unsung.

The students have limited to zero financial resources for college. All plan to attend four-year colleges, applying to an array of public and private institutions. They express confidence that a mix of HOPE scholarships, merit and need-based awards, loans, and jobs can be coordinated to support their dreams. Accustomed to sustained, focused hard work, this is simply another challenge to meet.

The goals for their careers vary widely. Some plan to teach, citing the inspiring examples of teachers whom they have encountered from elementary school onward. Others plan to establish businesses, become accountants, engineers, veterinarians, dentists, nurses and physicians. A sense of obligation to donate time and money to their communities is widespread.

Other young adults will gather headlines either as star athletes who choose among a variety of sports-based scholarships or as unfortunate victims or perpetrators of crime. Meanwhile, this remarkable group of students, who travel below the radar of celebrity, will quietly plug away to realize their goals of responsible places in society. An astute observer, familiar with the stories of these young people, compares them with roses that have grown through the concrete.

We need to celebrate their tenacity and unquenchable optimism. We bear the responsibility of assuring that similar students in our schools have access to well-maintained facilities, comprehensive curricula and appreciated teachers.

Contact Clif Cleaveland at cleaveland1000@comcast.net.

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