On June 2, 2020, Youth Leadership Advisory Team (YLAT) staff, Alumni and Maine Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) staff were honored to host a virtual graduation ceremony for youth in care graduating from high school and college. Youth in care face many hurdles in pursuing their academic goals, and graduating is a milestone that must be celebrated despite our current inability to gather together in space!
The celebration was attended by graduates and their guests, YLAT staff and staff from OCFS and was kicked off with everyone entering to ‘Pomp and Circumstance’, followed by a moving welcome from Shannon Watts, an alumnus of Maine’s foster care system and Clinical Director for Alternative Health and Wellness. Shannon shared a heartfelt reflection of navigating the foster care system at the same time as pursuing her educational goals, and recognized the persistence it takes to make it to graduation. Her pride in each graduate who demonstrates such wherewithal was evident and appreciated in her poignant opening remarks.
Next, Dr. Todd Landry, Director of OCFS, shared reflections that recognized the graduates’ accomplishments, and also the circumstances of this celebration occurring during a pandemic and a time when racial injustice is vivid and apparent. Director Landry asked each graduate to lean into these complex issues, and to and use the skills they have already developed through navigating uncertain times in their own lives to help create innovative solutions centering respect and compassion for all.
The ceremony included an individual recognition of each graduate, with OCFS staff sharing their respective graduating institution, unique strengths, and sincere well wishes. Along with big cheers, YLAT staff were excited to gift the book “Oh the Places You Will Go” with a special note inside sharing gratitude and encouragement. As one participant emailed after, “I was a little worried, as it’s hard to predict virtual glitches, but this went fantastic. Everyone spoke so eloquently, the music made it feel like we were actually there, and the youth were beaming!”
YLAT staff members are proud of each graduate and honored to be a part of their journey in conjunction with the OCFS staff who share deep and meaningful relationships with them. Congratulations, Class of 2020!