Great job ASPIRE graduates | RecordCourier.com

Great job ASPIRE graduates

ASPIRE graduate Natasha Buckingham decorated her cap for commencement.

To cheers, stomped feet and enthusiastic applause from almost 600 family, friends, teacher and staff packed into the Douglas County Community and Senior Center in Gardnerville, each member of the ASPIRE 2017 graduating class shared their story, their challenges and their gratitude for the miracle that helped them stand on the stage Tuesday night.

The challenges were staggering and included struggles with addiction, homelessness, expulsion and parenthood.

For many, coming to ASPIRE was their last, probably only chance, to graduate. But the path they chose out of desperation, turned out to be a gift for each and every one.

While some students had chosen ASPIRE to accelerate and for its smaller, more focused environment, most had come to ASPIRE credit deficient and with the absolute certainty they couldn't graduate if they stayed at Douglas High. ASPIRE uses a computer based blended learning style to give students a second chance. Because they can learn at their own pace, several students, including an honor student who had been warned she would graduate as much as a year and a half late, not only caught up, but got ahead and finished early.

Tears and laughter flowed equally as the students described their experience at ASPIRE using their own inspiring words, inspirational quotes and even a rapped spoken word piece.

Amid pauses to wipe away tears and catch their breath, the message came across loud and clear: it's a family. The teachers, the other students – there was so much love and gratitude. Most students had one or more teachers or a member of staff that they had connected with, who had become like a mom or a dad to them. All had friendships they hope will last forever. It's their home now and it will be hard to leave.

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Most are torn between the excitement of taking that next step in life and wanting to hang on to something amazing. They'll be back to visit and some want their own kids to go to ASPIRE; to have the same chance to find a place that makes them feel loved, supported and accepted for exactly who they are.

Love and acceptance is the foundation ASPIRE is built on and is a world apart from what many students had heard about ASPIRE before they came here: A school for bad kids. Where you go when you mess up.

What they found instead was a place they could learn to build connections, build relationships, learn to be accountable and practice respect. A place where family always comes first, your own and the one you make for yourself.

This is a school for amazing kids, who finally realized their potential. In the lovingly decorated Grandview dining room, ASPIRING students of Douglas County walked across the stage to receive their high school diploma and begin what retiring principal Michelle Trujillo called "not just the end of 12 years of education, but a glorious beginning".

What's next seems very normal: finding a job to support their families, working to save money for college, pursuing dreams of teaching, helping others, becoming writers, artists, entrepreneurs or going into the family businesses.

Congratulations to the students, Mrs. T, the teachers and the staff for pulling off a true miracle.

Karen Brier is a Ruhenstroth resident