An Unconventional Graduation Speech 

My daughter spoke at her high school graduation last week. To say that graduation for her was a hard-earned accomplishment is an understatement. While having been tested at a Mensa level IQ, her grades rarely reflected that giftedness. 

For this mom, who was salutatorian at her own high school graduation, who lives for learning, and who has been an educator for 22 years, the journey my daughter and I traveled, for her schooling, and in the midst of much personal and familial trauma, developed in me a compassion, empathy, and awareness, for just how easily trauma and at-risk factors can derail even the simplest of intellectual assignments. 

So when I found out she was speaking at her graduation ceremony, the pride that welled up inside of me was not the typical, “you earned the rihhg  to speak because your GPA and CSF honors earned you that place.” It was more like the pride of a seasoned warrior, who has seen a young protege come out victorious in a bloody battle, and who welcomes that exhausted soul home where they can rest and regain their strength. 

Here is her story, transcripted from her speech: 

Hi. So as I sat down to write this speech, I realized how fast it could get so cheesy. I could stand here and tell you to follow your dreams, which is all true. But I’m not going to stand here and sugar coat things. I’m going to keep it real. COIL is for students who don’t fit into the mold of conventional schooling… why write a speech for conventional kids. If any of you are like me, you know that school is a pain. And until I came to COIL, I would find any excuse NOT to be at school; some that worked; and some that didn’t. And once I got my license, I was really only there so that I wouldn’t get fined; but I was late almost every day, and left early most days. Which consequently let me to failing my first and sixth period classes. Which I DID have to make up here at COIL. 
The things I’ve endured did not allow me to learn in a conventional way. As a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault, and having severe PTSD, there were days when my anxiety was simply too bad to leave the house. And just the thought of having to go to six classes, and explain to every teacher why I hadn’t done my homework the night before, because I’d had intense panic attacks, stressed me out even more. And if I DID go, and explain it to my teachers, they claimed that, “it’s just an excuse, that everybody has issues, and….that I should leave my life….at home. 
My sophomore year at my home school, I had a teacher tell me that their job was to grade the work they give me….and NOT to know my life issues….and that they didn’t need to abide by my 504 plan if they didn’t want to….. I knew I was done. I came home, and broke down into tears, and begged my mom to help me find something different. 
The next week she went to the COIL Parent Meeting, and when she came back home with the packet, I knew that I had found what I needed. 
Don’t get me wrong, Gino and COIL have NOT made high school and walk in the park. But honestly, if it wasn’t for the teachers here, I don’t think I would be standing here on this stage, talking to my fellow graduates. 
Gino and COIL understand that life happens. And that there’s more to life than getting homework done. He understands how traumatic it was when I had to give away my dog; and when I got in a car accident the next week. He understands the stress I was going through when my family was falling apart. To me, he’s not a mean teacher, but an amazing listener and guidance counselor. 
Now…. I know as a senior, we constantly get the same questions…”oh my gosh, what are you doing next year?” And if you’re like me, you have NO idea…. And some of you might have your answers, and that’s awesome….but…..I still have no clue. And up until this year, I thought that was the worst possible answer that you could give.…..But I’m starting to realize that this is ok. I’m ok with the fact that I’m not sure what I want to do yet. And that there’s nothing wrong with it. I mean, if the president’s daughter can take a year off, so can I. 
High school has been one heck of a ride. One that took way too long, and one that I never wanted to be on in the first place. But I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had here at COIL. And I’m thankful for my family for putting up with me. And pushing me. They’ve been my rock through everything. I’m blessed to have them. And I know that whatever I choose to do….’ooo, there’s an ant (she then kills it)’……and that whatever I choose to do, walking into this new chapter of my life, they will have my back 100%. 
So congratulations my fellow graduates of 2016. We finally made it. 

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