by smf for 4LAKidsNews
Tuesday August 5, 2014 :: This morning Superintendent Deasy hosted his annual back-to-school confab for principals and administrators in the new auditorium at Garfield High School. The highlight of these affairs is usually a barnburner of a kick-off-to-the school year speech from the superintendent to his assembled principals – a listing of the successes of the past year and a go get ‘em team/”Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our English dead!” motivational oration that sets a vision and goals for the coming year.
I will discuss Dr. Deasy’s speech elsewhere; the best speech of the morning by far was offered by recent City of Angels Options School graduate Vanessa Perez. Her place on the program was to establish the challenge; her speech was supposed to be a tear jerker – and it was,
It as hopeful …but it was real. Dramatic but without artifice.
Two empty folding chairs were set up next to the podium.
MS. PEREZ: Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences as an LAUSD graduate. I appreciate that all of you are working to prepare students to be ready for college and the work force.
I speak to you today to give you a glimpse into the life of a graduate who almost didn’t make it and still has a ways to go.
At my graduation from the City of Angels in June, there were thousands of chairs and hundreds of graduates.
My fellow graduates had seats filled by a parent, grandparent, godparent, foster parent, or other family member or mentor who helped them along the way.
I had two empty chairs, much like these two, where my parents should have been seated but they didn’t attend because they chose a different life.
Both of my parents are drug addicts.
They didn’t graduate. They just made it past middle school.
My father is in prison because of his heroin addiction. About two months ago, I received an unexpected call. I was told he was moved to a ward of the prison where the inmates are dying. I was told he wanted to see me.
(IF HE COULD ONLY SEE ME NOW.)
My mother is a ward of the streets now. She was unable to take care of me because of her addiction to speed. I was taken away from her at a young age because this addiction caused her to be violent, and made her unable to take care of me like she should have.
I would like to give you a tour of my K-12 education.
I started Kindergarten in San Pedro.
1st grade was in Gardena. Once my parents started doing bad and getting incarcerated, I started living with relatives.
2nd and 3rd grade were in Buena Park.
4th grade was in Carson. Are you following this?
I then moved up north to Victorville for 5th grade,
And then to Hesperia for 6th/7th grades.
In 8th grade, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona
I started 9th in AZ and after a month, I moved back to California.
I finished 9th and part of 10th grade in Wilmington. And, thankfully, I learned of City of Angels mid-way through my 10th grade year. Five different relatives and nine schools. That was my world.
I don’t speak to either one of my parents; not because I’m angry or hurt, which at times I am but because I have learned to parent myself. In fact, I have been working the graveyard shift at Denny’s since my junior year. I am grateful that my parents gave me life, and by their example, they inspired me to choose another path unlike the one they chose.
Life isn’t easy. There are some things in life you just don’t get to choose. I didn’t get to choose who my parents would be.
I made a decision that I would NOT be like either of them. My life was going to be different.
And, yet, I went down the same path.
Before City of Angels, I was ditching school everyday, drinking, smoking pot, experimenting with ecstasy and prescription pills.
I didn’t think that what some of my teachers were telling me in high school would be of any use but it actually is and I wish I had paid more attention.
I had fallen so far behind in credits I thought it was impossible to catch up but I did it with the help of my teachers and my Nina Noreen.
Whether it was my photography teacher who pulled me aside one day to encourage me to do better or my City of Angels teacher who believed in me, I had a few adults at school that cared about me. I want you to know that you make a difference to students like me. You are so vital to us. You are our coaches, our motivators, and sometimes, our number one fans.
I made it to graduation day. I crossed the finish line but now I’m learning that graduation is actually the starting line of life.
I was looking forward to enrolling in Harbor College in the fall and THEN I took the placement tests this summer. I passed the English test but I am very behind in math. This means that my dream of becoming a registered nurse is a bit delayed.
I had a choice to make: either take the three math remediation classes I needed before I could even get credit for math, or enroll in a private nursing program which required me to take out $23,000 in loans plus interest.
People were telling me not to take the loans because I would be in debt when I’m done. Just last week I decided to take the three remediation math classes. I feel better knowing that I have will help at Harbor College. If it takes me six years to become a nurse, I’ll be 24 years old. I’ll still be young.
You know, even though those two chairs sat empty at my graduation ceremony, they really weren’t. I filled them with my hope for the future, the inspiration of my own personal mentors, and the love of my family, friends, and teachers.
So I say to you, principals and administrators…
Every time you encounter somebody, realize that they too may have some empty chairs in their lives. The way you treat every person you encounter matters. You may never really know how much a kind word of encouragement can change the life of another person. You may never see the results, but don’t let that hold you back from helping someone believe in themselves. And, please help them get ready for college so they don’t have to take remediation classes like me.
I am extremely grateful that I was the first in my family to graduate. I’m still facing challenges. I still have obstacles to overcome. I know I’m successful but there is still so much to do.
It sure makes life a whole lot more fun to be a graduate. I keep this saying in my head every day:
“You cannot get to the top by sitting on your bottom.”
I am making the choice to live my life so that I permanently change my future for the better.
I’m standing strong for myself and I thank you for helping me along the way. I am a graduate of LAUSD and I promise to make you all proud.
“I was looking forward to enrolling in Harbor College in the fall and THEN I took the placement tests this summer…”
The fact that many high school graduates – even those admitted the UC and The Cal State programs – need to take remedial courses to meet minimum qualifications for admission is not new and it is not unique to LAUSD.
That situation existed back when I graduated from high school and went to college (when the world was in black+white) and even back when my other graduated from Marshall and went to UCLA …when dinosaurs roamed the earth. For the life of me I don’t know how I passed the tests. The remedial courses in the olden days were colloquially called ‘Dumbbell English and Math’.
These are courses you must pass, and for which you must pay tuition – but for which the student receives no college credit.
I have sat on a panel with the chief admission officer of the Cal State University system – this state-of-affairs drives admission folks crazy. The argument that ‘it’s always been that way’ drives them crazier still. There is a move afoot at Cal State Long Beach to approach these remedial programs in another way and I intend to go into that in a future essay.
But of we are going to use the UC/CSU A-G admission standards as the minimum requirement to receive an LAUSD diploma then the students we graduate and the colleges that admit them have a right to expect that those standards are met.
Vanessa Perez worked hard for her diploma; she has a right to expect that it’s worth what says and says what it means.