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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 1:48 am | Fair 50º


Bill Cirone: Congratulations to Very Special Graduates

Some students overcome steep odds and are headed down a path to a better life

In this season of graduations, it’s good to focus on some very special young people who had a much harder journey to earn their mortarboards, with roadblocks and challenges many of us can’t fully imagine.

Bill Cirone
Bill Cirone

These are the students who, despite very long odds, managed to graduate from high school at one of the county’s juvenile court or community schools, including the county’s Los Prietos Boys Camp.

We often talk about education being the path to a better life, and that very true statement takes on special meaning when you are dealing with a young life that involved crime, drugs, abuse, truancy or a combination of those challenges.

We are very proud of the teachers, the mentors, the probation workers and the role models who reached out a hand and in a very real sense changed or even saved a life. It would have been far easier for these young people to return to the behavior that got them in trouble in the first place. The pressures are enormous, from fellow gang members, from friends who abuse drugs, from family members who do not value education or who do value it but are unable to support those efforts while also juggling multiple jobs to keep the family afloat.

Despite those difficult situations, 120 young people managed to take advantage of those helping hands and turn their lives around through a combination of focus, hard work and scholarships provided by community organizations that recognized it sometimes takes more than willpower to do the right thing.

Resources matter. Since 2006, five service clubs — Santa Maria Breakfast Rotary, Goleta Noontime Rotary, Solvang Rotary, Santa Ynez Valley Rotary and the Santa Barbara Kiwanis Club — have donated $32,860 in scholarship money to students leaving the Boys Camp so they can further their education.

More than 91 students who are alumni of the Boys Camp have been approved for scholarships, and 47 of those have already enrolled or graduated. Right now, there are 19 students enrolled at local community colleges — 15 at Alan Hancock and four at SBCC.

Two of the recent graduates were selected to speak at their graduation, and their comments were moving to all who heard them.

“In all honesty, some of us never imagined graduating from high school,” one said. “For some of us, this means getting a job, and for others it means college. I’m excited because I will be the first one in my family to attend college.”

Another said: “All of us up here are totally different people who have lived totally different lives, but seek the same goal: success. … We’ve all been through tough obstacles, but I believe that is what life is all about — going through obstacles but learning how to overcome them and moving on.

“Now the doors of opportunity are wide open for us, and it is our responsibility to walk through and accept the opportunity to keep moving forward to success. ... We now have the power and the obligation to influence our little brothers and sisters and other kids in general to make better decision and to stay in school. We need to step up to the plate and be positive role models.

“We represent a lot of hard work and commitment, not only from us, but from all of those who did not give up on us, even when we were ready to give up on ourselves. … Most of us never pictured being here, but it has happened because we are in charge of our lives.”

It’s clear that the dedicated, hardworking educators and probation staff members, the service clubs and community volunteers have had a major impact on these young lives.

It is also heartening that the community has come together to acknowledge that these students represent human capital with vast potential if there is a course correction from their current path. There is no downside to providing the helping hand of education and opportunity.

Congratulations to all the graduates from these programs who are now headed in a better direction, with better choices for all.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

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