This month, I went to the most amazing graduation I have ever seen. I am a seasoned graduation goer. I played “Pomp and Circumstance” in the school band year after year, starting in the 4th grade. The only ones I missed were the ones where I was a graduate – you can’t march and play the baritone horn at the same time. I have attended my kids’ graduations and the graduations of the kids of friends. But the graduation of about 150 people from The North State Independence High School and the Shasta Adult School on June 3, 2011 absolutely, completely, took the cake.
Honestly, I did not know these two programs even existed until I became acquainted with a teen age girl I will call Jill (not her real name). She is obviously very bright and was blessed with a mother who wanted her kids to have more than she had. People wind up in these programs for a variety of reasons. Some are adults who did not finish school and wanted to make up for a mistake. Some are kids who fell behind due to illness or disruptions in their family lives. Some just needed a change of place because they became the target of cliques or bullies. Teenagers can be wonderful, but they can also be cruel.
On June 3, 2011, Jill became the first member of her family to graduate from High School. My lovely wife made it clear that I had lectured Jill so much about the importance of an education that I had to go to her graduation.
Any married man with an ounce of sense knows better than to argue about an issue like that.
It was very different from any graduation I have ever attended. The speeches were short and to the point. And the point was all-important. It was simply this: however badly your life has jumped the rails, you can get it back if you want it enough. The first student speaker was a young woman who talked about going from repeated hospitalizations for anorexia to an academic performance that earned her a 5-figure scholarship to one of the best undergraduate institutions in the country, Mills College. I thought, holy moly, granatoly, this is really different from the “we are at the beginning of our life and everything is upward and onward” that usually flavors graduation speeches.
The second speaker was a guy who had about 10 years of his life disappear down the sewer of addiction – mostly Meth and Oxy, if I understood him. He was, as he said, still dealing with the long term effects, especially legal, of that kind of behavior. But he had gotten clean and sober and this night, he was graduating from High School. I hope to God he keeps the drug devils at bay.
There were more stories like that. All about 2 or 3 minutes long. All were not that we are about to do great things, but that considering where we were, we have done great things and we are not done yet.
Jill was not there because of any misconduct on her part, but because she had become a victim of the kind of cliquish behavior that teenaged girls can do so well. I think there was a point where she might have given it up, they were making her life so miserable. Fortunately, her mom was not about to let that happen.
This night, she had a smile on her face that was so big and lasted so long that I bet her cheeks are sore. She knows that college is in her future. And her two younger sisters and her little brother are going to be on her heels. They are so proud of their big sister. They want to follow in those footsteps.
Congratulations to the Shasta Union High School District for the foresight and innovation that went into this program. It is a credit to our community, and literally a life saver to some of our citizens.
And to Jill (you know who you are), remember: It is easier to work with your head than it is to work with your back.
Dugan Barr has practiced law in Redding since 1967. He has tried more than 200 civil jury cases to verdict. He is married and has five children. The offices of Barr and Mudford, LLP, are at 1824 Court St. in Redding and can be reached at 243-8008.
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