On Saturday, June 22nd, IHADLA celebrated the graduation of its Dreamers in Program 14. IHADLA “adopted” over 100 first graders at Murchison Elementary School in 2002. The Dreamers went on to attend – and graduate from – Wilson High School, Lincoln High School, and over 30 public and a few private schools throughout Los Angeles. When the Dreamers reunited to celebrate their amazing accomplishment, the emotion in the air was palpable. Almost all of these Dreamers were first-generation high school graduates, and most were the first in their family to attend college. These young students had risen far above the community’s expectations and perhaps, even their own. They worked hard and gave their all with the help of their IHADLA family, and they are now able to see their dreams of college coming true. Few had dared to dream big for these children when they were brought into IHADLA over twelve years ago, but now, 88% of the Dreamers who stayed active with IHADLA are graduating on time. The remaining Dreamers will graduate next year, achieving an almost 100% graduation rate of the almost 100 Dreamers who remained connected with IHADLA.
As the ceremony progressed, every single person in attendance was wiping tears from his or her face, struck by the momentous nature of this event and the heartfelt speeches given by both Dreamers and IHADLA staff. Many Dreamers had found a home in the program and found it difficult to accept that this brunch signaled the achievement of their premier goal, as well as the end of the active programming with IHADLA. There would be no more after-school program, no more summer program, no more mentors, tutors, holiday gatherings, and college field trips.
Dreamer Wendy Perez detailed the familial nature of IHADLA and closed her speech with the following sentences:
“Believe me when I say that all the events and field trips you took us on helped expand our minds to look outside our small communities, which at times, wasn’t very positive to be around. Thank you for being our guides, mentors, and most of all, our second family. Just know how much we appreciate you and that we love you.”
Other Dreamers and staff members of IHADLA gave incredibly moving speeches, and many Dreamers emphasized their future goals and ambitions. The program had fundamentally changed their outlook on life, and when reflecting on the ambition that IHADLA had instilled in her, Dreamer Nancy Ruiz stated,
“So, I will demonstrate how thankful I am to each one of you: project coordinators, mentors, and even my fellow Dreamers for not giving up. I will reach that goal of one day obtaining the PhD I keep talking about, and won’t let any of you down because all of you have given us so much of your time. It’s unbelievable; you have given me the tools I will need in order to continue.”
When Dreamer Jason Valdez reflected about the future, he delivered his words with determination and confidence:
“This is the real life now, survival of the fittest where only the strong survive. Can you visualize what you want? I can see what I want, and my dream job is to work for Fox Sports Studios or ESPN. Please know that nothing will ever be handed to you; you have to earn everything, but if there is something in the way of your destination, work harder and go take what you want.”
Sasha Jara, a Dreamer who plans to graduate next year, took a different tone and delved into the basic essence of the program with a few eloquent sentences:
“I Have a Dream” taught me right from wrong and to give back to those less fortunate, be mature, and simply be myself. They have helped make me and my parents proud of the person I am today. There’s nothing more rewarding than that.”
IHADLA could not have been prouder of our most recent graduates, and the sentiments of the Dreamers only made the parting that much more heart-wrenching. Executive Director Katy Garretson spoke to IHADLA’s continuing hopes and ambitions for the Dreamers by quoting Oprah Winfrey: “Don’t just want to be successful in the world. Don’t just want to make a mark, or have a legacy… Do want to fulfill the highest, truest expression of yourself as a human being.”
She then closed with the following:
“So, go find yourself, make yourself more knowledgeable, make wise choices and create a great future for yourself…and enjoy the ride. We are so proud of you.”