The ‘ASPIRE Family’ produces 24 graduates Thursday | RecordCourier.com

The ‘ASPIRE Family’ produces 24 graduates Thursday

After working hard, some with amazing stories of overcoming hardships, 24 students from Aspire Academy High School graduated Thursday afternoon at a commencement ceremony held at TJ's Corral.

Of the graduates, five students also received scholarships.

Valedictorian Allyson Bliss was awarded $3,500 from the Carson Valley Inn.

Madison English, Cynthia Martinez-Gomez, Natalie Miller (who was also given an award for school and community service), and Salutatorian Sarah Sandell each received $2,000 from the Dean Seeman Foundation, and Sandell also received $500 from the Tahoe Youth and Family S.T.O.P. Program.

One of the phrases that kept coming up during the graduation was "family;" not only the nuclear and extended family, to whom the graduates offered a round of applause in gratitude, but the ASPIRE Family.

"I made the choice to come to ASPIRE and change my life around," said student Sarah Anderson. "Without Aspire, I wouldn't be standing here giving this speech. When I first started attending ASPIRE, the first thing they said to me when I walked through the door was 'welcome to the family.' Of course at first I thought this was really cheesy, but then as the years progressed, I was able to understand what it meant. I had a special bond with each of the teachers and staff members. They encouraged me every single day to work hard and never give up, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged."

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Douglas County Superintendent Teri White spoke to the graduates in her address.

"No matter your path, each of you has overcome the hurdles life has set up for you," said White. "Students like you are the ones that let us know that what we do matters. You are the ones that challenge us to find ways that work for you. The ones who make us proud do the work we do. And the ones we will never forget. Through the choices you made, you are now ready to own your life and make something great of it."

Many of the adult speakers at the commencement ceremony were overcome with emotion multiple times, something that doesn't happen often at graduations, where it can sometimes seem like the same ceremony is performed each year for the teachers and administrators. However, with Aspire's small class sizes and the individual challenges of each student that must be overcome, teachers and administrators get to know their students, or new family members, exceptionally well.

"The class of 2018 has hardworking, talented and exceptional young people in it," Principal Marty Swisher said.

Natalie Miller, who was awarded the School and Community Service Award, lost her mother when she was ten years old, and never learned how to cope. When she started high school, things only got worse. But when she began attending ASPIRE, her life changed.

"I cannot imagine what my life would be like without Aspire's academic and emotional support. I learned valuable life and character building lessons," said Miller. "In February, I graduated a year and a half early with a 3.6 GPA and perfect attendance. I know ASPIRE is the reason I'm here. By the time I turn 18, I'll be finished with high school and beauty school."

For the past two years, Andre Barkley has struggled with a serious medical disability. He is in constant pain, and often dislocates joints and tears tendons, sometimes on a daily basis, and cannot walk for more than small spurts. However, because of Aspire, he too stood in front of the audience and graduated alongside his class, his wheelchair discarded behind him.

"To everyone who ever said I would never graduate because I never make it to school and I'm always hurt or sick, here I am," said Barkley. "I'm much stronger than you think."

Students from the Spoken Word program also gave testimonials, and for one student in particular, Sykhara Bush, several faculty members became a little teary eyed.

"She's faced challenges—sometimes I get a little choked up — she's faced challenges on so many levels that could have defeated her, but she's such a strong person, and feisty too, that she persevered through each challenge," said Swisher.

"I have to say, before ASPIRE, I hated going to school," said Bush. "ASPIRE has definitely helped me grow as a person. Coming to Aspire was the best decision I could have made. I got welcomed into a home that accepted everybody as they are and that was an amazing feeling. I got a chance to change myself for the better and actually graduate."

Several donors gave assistance to the graduation, including:

A&A Construction

Berger North Foundation

Carson Valley Backpack Buddies

Carson Valley Inn

Carson Valley Kiwanis

Crystal Angels Foundations

Parents Involved in Education

The Aspire Academy Graduating Class of 2018:

Sarah Lynn Anderson

Andre Kaleb Barkley

Taylor Marie Bernhardt

Allyson Marie Bliss

Charles Wayne Brown

Skyhara Enrea Bush

Coral Rae Cardenas

Megan Laura Dube

Julie Allison Edmunds

Madison Jean Michelle English

Derrick Slade Gettings

Cadin Lawrence Hanks

Peyton Cooper Harris

Toby Monroe Jacobsen

Daniel Hunter MacDonald

Donavan Stewart MacLean

Carlos Eduardo Martinez

Deanna Rene Martinez

Cynthia Redfox Martinez-Gomez

Alexus Lee McDonald

Natalie Linda Miller

Hailey Rose Newby

Sarah Elizabeth Sandell

Isabella Lillie Pauline Wilson