Foster youth celebrate their achievements at graduation ceremony
Riverside County, CA-Graduating from high school or college is one of the most impressive and rewarding achievements celebrated in one’s life. On Thursday, June 14, 2018, a group of young adults who at one time had the odds stacked up against them, celebrated reaching that goal.
Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) Children’s Services hosted the Foster Youth Graduation Achievement Celebration and recognized 150 youth who received their GED, vocational certificate or high school diploma. This year two young adults became college graduates, one earned an AA degree and the other graduate earned a culinary arts degree. Special recognition was also given to a youth who had perfect attendance all academic year.
With a theme of the Keys to Success, the event featured keynote speaker Dee Hankins, who shared his message of resilience is everything. “The ability to bounce back is what enables students to come out of challenging experiences with a positive attitude about themselves and their futures,” said Hankins.
“They have all the challenges that youth do, but on top of that they were removed from their parents because of no fault of their own. So, they’ve had to go without the parental support a lot of us have had,” said Dr. Marie Brown-Mercadel, Assistant Director Children’s Services.
For the young adults who were recognized, the ceremony celebrated much more than finishing school. It was about celebrating an accomplishment that once seemed so out of reach. “Everything happens for a reason and instead of looking at the negativity I saw the positives and the opportunities that have been presented to me,” said Daniel Smith, one of the graduates. 18 year old Smith graduated from Lake Elsinore High School and plans to attend Palomar Community College.
Seven of the graduates were accepted into a four-year-university, while 75 others plan to attend community college. Traditionally, just 50 percent of foster youth finish high school however, graduation rates have steadily increased in Riverside County. Last year for example, there were 136 foster youth high school graduates compared to 145 this year.
“We are so excited to celebrate this achievement with our foster youth and want to do everything we can to ensure that they have a successful start as young adults,” said Director Susan von Zabern.
The 150 graduates received a variety of gifts including gift cards, award plaques and photos, and laptops to help them with their future studies.