(PASADENA, CA) On May 28, Hillsides Education Center (HEC) graduated 11 seniors – the largest graduating class in the 32-year history of the school – during an emotional commencement ceremony held in the auditorium on Hillsides main campus in Pasadena.
An overflow crowd including family, friends, students, Hillsides volunteers, and representatives from school districts and other charitable organizations were in attendance to celebrate the 2014 graduating class.
The 11 graduating seniors represented a cross-section of the students who attend HEC. Collectively they came from seven different cities. Some were day students, while some lived at Hillsides residential program, which provides a safe and stable environment for children who cannot live at home.
During the ceremony, all 11 students gave speeches. “Each has made invaluable gains and overcome challenges to be here today,” said the director of HEC, Ryan Eisenberg, Ed.D, who presided over the ceremony. “Each has earned the right to speak.”
The students used the opportunity to thank their teachers and the HEC staff. “Thank you for pushing me forward and being the best people in the world,” said one young woman. She added that one of the greatest lessons she learned at HEC was to “never give up” and that “maybe one day, I can change the world.”
A highlight of the ceremony was when the students performed an original group poem reflecting on their pasts, their presents, and on Hillsides. The poem was facilitated by Story Tribes, a local writing and performance program.
“I used to think life wasn’t worth it, that education wasn’t everything, that love wasn’t real,” read one young woman. “Now I know that life has a purpose, that education is worth it, that love is beautiful.” Another student spoke about what Hillsides represents to him: “Hillsides is a home for me. A place where I can be myself. Hillsides is a family. A family that will not give up on me.”
After the ceremony was over and the diplomas distributed among cheers and smiles, Eisenberg reflected on the students’ achievements. “I am so proud of them,” he said. “Each has demonstrated tenacity to accomplish their goals. And as a group, they came together and supported each other to ensure that all 11 would graduate.”
Some of the students’ parents were moved to tears by their children’s’ achievement. “I never thought I would see this day,” said one parent. Another remarked, “Hillsides saved my life,” adding that before sending his daughter to Hillsides, he was without hope.
Some of the class of 2014 plan on attending city college in the fall, others are starting jobs. But whatever their future paths, all are optimistic. To quote the final lines of the students’ collective poem: “We will speak our mind and bring justice to the world. Run, love and live on. [We] are on top of the world. We will succeed.”
About Hillsides Education Center
HEC is a therapeutic residential and day school that offers individualized education for students with social-emotional, learning and/or behavioral challenges for children in kindergarten through 12th grade. The school serves students with various family backgrounds, including biological parents, single parents, adoptive parents, those living with relatives, foster youth, and students who are homeless. A high staff to student ration (1:3) enables the school to meet the diverse and complex needs of students and families. For more information, please visit http://hillsideseducationcenter.org.
Hillsides, headquartered in Pasadena, is a premier provider dedicated to improving the overall well-being and functioning of vulnerable children, youth, and their families throughout Los Angeles County. The HEC is one of the four core programs of Hillsides, which also includes Residential Treatment Services for children and youth who cannot live at home, Family Resource Centers, which offering counseling and other services to families, and Youth Moving On, which provides youth formerly in foster care and probation affordable quality housing and other services. For more information, please visit www.Hillsides.org.