This past week, Lakeside Educational Network has celebrated four graduations of students from our four schools. Many of our students were told they would never graduate because they didn’t have capacity to do so. However, staff, parents and many who helped along the way have the joy to say we were extremely proud of the many students who successfully graduated. Some of our students spoke at their ceremonies and shared their personal stories.
Ashley Pelletier’s graduation speech
Ashley graduated from our Lakeside Girls Academy. Her speech was so inspirational that I thought I would publish it below.
At a Harvard Graduation a wise woman once said, “It doesn’t matter how far you might rise. At some point you are bound to stumble. If you’re constantly pushing yourself higher, the law of averages—not to mention the Myth of Icarus—predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do I want you to know this, remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” You all may know her as Oprah Winfrey.
I am Ashley Pelletier, and I want to welcome the special guests, families, and friends of my fellow graduates. I am honored to be a part of this powerful program. Let me start off by saying I am not up here to lecture you on “making a difference” or “making change” or anything you may have already heard. My speech is going to be about achieving your set goal, and the accomplishments of this group of graduates.
What makes our group of graduates so unique is, many of you, like myself, have experienced life-changing traumas, such as, losing someone, being harassed, bullied or kicked out of your home school, having such bad social anxiety that being around thousands of other people isn’t in your comfort zone, problems with the law, hospitalizations, and group homes. All the things not your everyday high school student has to deal with.
As for me, I have been blessed to experience all of that.
Yes, you heard me right, I did say that I have been blessed. If you go on in life thinking every tragic event you go through is a bad experience, you’ll never get any good out of it.
As girls at Lakeside, we have learned to grow and make peace with our demons. You learn from your mistakes and if I hadn’t made a million mistakes in my life, I would not be the person I am today.
Before coming to Lakeside, I was making decisions trying to make it through just that day. I never thought of my future; the only thing I could think of was trying to have the willpower to stay alive for just one more day.
I believe I can speak for every girl here today when I say I have had such a powerful, positive experience here at Lakeside. We’ve learned how to keep healthy relationships, and identify what is and isn’t right in our relationships, alternative coping mechanisms, positive self image, academic skills, parenting skills, and social skills. It’s not about Lakeside changing us. It’s about having the motivation to better ourselves, and Lakeside just giving us all the right resources and support.
Most of the girls here, like me, had to grow up too fast and didn’t experience a picture perfect childhood, but that’s ok. The fact that we’ve made it successfully through 12 years of school should say something about the drive we have to make a change in the world. Let’s give our children and future children the life we couldn’t have. We are here today to celebrate the great accomplishments of all of us. We are terrific young women. Today is the beginning of the next, most important phase of a new life outside of high school.
Looking into the future, what do you see?
I speak for every girl here when I say until today the future never seemed real to us. All the trials and tribulations we’ve had to overcome to get to this point in our lives have just empowered us to become the successful young women we are today.
It also means we’ve had to work extra hard to be here.
I came into Lakeside with failing grades, poor behavior, a brutal self-image, and I’m walking out with outstanding grades and have been on honor roll for three straight years. Also, most importantly, I have never been so self-confident in my life.
We are girls who are going to make a change in the world, with our powerful stories and academic achievements. We are unique in all of our own ways and as smart and capable as any traditional student. Standing up here today means we all have the skills to learn, aptitude to succeed, creativity and power to make a difference, to work to meet the needs and assist in solving the problems that face society today. We’ve never had a woman president, and that doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of running the United States, it just means maybe the first woman president is standing right up here graduating. (Personal Story)
Though we’ve been through adverse situations there’s a reason they call it the past.
It’s a brand new chapter of our lives. As great as it feels proving people wrong, the people who said we couldn’t make it here, let’s not think about them, let’s think of how great it feels to do this for ourselves.
This school has taught us how to strive for excellence and that we have the characteristics to facilitate success. I believe we all have the potential to do great things, to help young girls who are struggling, just like we did. I am certain every girl here will make a difference in the future, and we all can look back and say, “I did it.”
I want to thank all of the staff here at Lakeside for their hard work and dedication. It’s the kindheartedness and the strength you’ve given to all of us that made us learn to love ourselves the way we are. It was my pleasure to deliver this speech to you, and I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing the phenomenal women here today earn what they’ve worked so hard to achieve.
Congratulations to Ashley and all of our graduates.
We are so proud of you all! We have appreciated the privilege of working with you in your personal and academic achievements which have resulted in the momentous occasion of high school graduation. We wish you all the best in your next endeavors and hope that you will remember all that you have learned at Lakeside!
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network