Excelsior Youth Center Graduation with Denver’s First Lady, Mary Louise Lee Hancock

MLL quote copyOn August 4, Excelsior celebrated new beginnings for three of our students as they graduated high school. Despite a small graduating class, staff, students and families came together to proudly (and loudly) applaud these three young women as they received their diplomas. The First Lady of Denver, Mary Louise Lee Hancock, also came to support our girls as the commencement speaker.

The Graduation Ceremony

The Graduation Ceremony began with an incredible performance of the National Anthem by Excelsior’s student choir. Afterwards, Excelsior’s Principal, Deb Huerta, gave an introductory speech with a moving story about a young boy and starfish. The story goes like this: each day a young boy stands on the beach as the tide recedes, throwing stranded starfish back into the ocean. A man watches him do this day after day, then finally asks the boy why he does this. He tells the boy that there are so many miles of beach with stranded starfish that he can’t possibly make a difference. The boy listens politely and after the man Grad cakefinishes, he picks up another starfish, throws it in the ocean, and says to the man, “for that one, I just made a difference”. The message to the graduates was work for what you believe and always finish what you start. Graduation is an accomplishment that will push them to follow their dreams through which they will surely make a difference in many other lives.

Mary Louise Lee Hancock, First Lady of Denver

MLLAfter a second performance by the Excelsior student choir, Mary Louise gave a powerful commencement address conveying to the graduates that they can shape their own destinies. She began by acknowledging that each graduate has had significant challenges in their lives and “although it has been painful at times, it showed you to discover your deepest vulnerabilities and at the same time, your greatest attributes”. She commends the graduates on turning their challenges into opportunities and accomplishing something great. Mary Louise is honest: “upon graduating, there is no doubt that you will be faced with new challenges and new barriers, but you will also be blessed with new opportunities, new beginnings and new possibilities.” She admits that everyone faces adversity, but emphasizes that the important thing is how you respond to those challenges. Looking into the eyes of the graduates, Mary Louise says “You have the chance to make your future what you want it to be. Your destiny is in no one’s hands but your own.” Then Mary Louise closed her speech with an incredible vocal performance of one of her own favorite songs, “Never Give Up” by Yolanda Adams.

Final Words

Before presenting the girls with diplomas, Excelsior’s CEO, Susan Hébert, gave a brief message to the girls reminding them that they have the power of choice. Susan emphasized that all people have the choice to be a passive victim or active hero of their own circumstances. She encouraged the girls to take action and continue being the heroes of their own stories, as they have been thus far.

The Graduates

Grads - tasslesOur three graduates have big plans for their futures. One dreams of becoming a teacher or therapist so she can help other young people. At Excelsior, she learned to be a mentor to others and take responsibility. She plans to begin studying Early Childhood Development at a community college in the fall, but ultimately dreams of graduating from Colorado State University.

Another graduate is grateful for Excelsior, saying “I have found myself in ways I never knew before – I never knew how much kindness I could withhold…I realized I wanted to follow my dreams, be successful and find peace, love and happiness”. She hopes to become a cosmetologist so she can help other’s find themselves and build their self-esteem.

The third graduate is a passionate leader who hopes to become a real estate agent so she can help build the community. This young girl strives to carry a message to others: “Each door you open has a new beginning and each path you take is your own destiny”. She says to Excelsior: “Thanks for not giving up on me and giving me smiles and hugs when I needed them”.