Class of 2015 Fall Graduation

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Today, 38 YouthBuild students in the Class of 2015 received their diplomas in a small ceremony at Zion Baptist Church.  These students represent some of the most resilient young men and women to enroll at YouthBuild, because they endured obstacles during the year that prevented them from graduating in August and persisted anyway, thanks to our REVIVE and Fall School programs.  Fall School Graduation is a celebration of accomplishment and persistence, and a wonderful reminder to never, ever give up.

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This year’s Keynote Speaker was Aurelina Rojas, the Director of HR at Saxbys Coffee.  Aurelina also received an award for her commitment to YouthBuild Philly’s mission.  Saxbys Coffee has hired four YouthBuild alumni in the past year!

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Student speaker Roberto gave an encouraging speech to students about embracing the journey ahead of them, and student speaker (and “Best Poet” award winner) Aushanae read an original poem called “Flowers.”

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A total 156 young adults have now graduated from the Class of 2015.

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Congrats to our newly minted alumni! You are an inspiration and we can’t wait to see what you accomplish next.

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Graduation 2014: Highlights, Photos, and Speeches

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On August 29, 122 YouthBuild students graduated in front of friends and family at a ceremony held in Zion Baptist Church’s sanctuary on North Broad Street.  Hundreds of guests attended, as well as Class of 2015 applicants currently going through Mental Toughness Training.

We were honored to welcome Marcus Allen, CEO of Big Brothers Bialleng Sisters SEPA (BBBSSEPA), as our keynote speaker this year. A strong proponent of service and mentoring, Mr. Allen thoughtfully included references to our students’ individual accomplishments as community leaders.  Prior to joining BBBSSEPA, Mr. Allen was the CEO of ACHIEVEability, a non-profit that provides housing – which YouthBuild students help maintain.

April Broaddus, Class of 2005, delivered a rousing alumni address encouraging graduates to be proud of their pathway through YouthBuild, and to recognize past setbacks as opportunities.

Don’t think that just because you didn’t take the traditional path in your education that you can’t go as far as anyone else. At YouthBuild, our core values make us that much stronger! Don’t think it stops here. Don’t limit yourself because you’re afraid to compete or fail! People who stumble can still be incredibly successful. Michael Jordan lost many a game before the Bulls hit their winning streak! The Beatles, one of the greatest selling groups of all time, were turned down by a record company because they didn’t like the sound and style of their music. Walt Disney was fired from his job as a cartoon artist because they said he lacked creativity. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, was on welfare when she wrote some her best work to date! You’re gonna stumble. You’re gonna fall. You’re gonna have to work twice as hard as you did while you were here. But it’s worth it!

Broaddus is a Rosemont College graduate and now has her own online radio show.  (We also learned just prior to the ceremony that she went through ACHIEVEability’s program after graduating from YouthBuild, which made it all the more fitting for her and Mr. Allen to speak this year.)

This year’s student speakers were Perseverance Award Winner Tania Garcia, Valedictorian Jamal Johnson, and Salutatorian Carmen Williams. 

Tania wrote her speech, which we’ve excerpted here, about resilience:

Today I am here standing not just for my accomplishments, but I am also standing with the rest of the YouthBuild student body that showed perseverance by taking back our education.tania

My words to the Mental toughness applicants are, “Don’t Give Up!” I know that’s what everyone says, but really, Do Not  Give Up. You will understand the importance of these words in a year when you graduate. A lot of people told me not to give up and it wasn’t always what I wanted to hear, but I’m so glad they reminded me every time they saw me.

To the 2014 YouthBuild students: I hope that our friendships don’t end here. I also hope that we all remember this chapter of our lives as a great example of our ability to overcome.

Jamal’s speech included shout-outs to fellow students who have demonstrated YouthBuild’s core values:

Living life along the “YouthBuild Way” has been an inspirational experience for me, as well as all my peers throughout this past year. I am reminded often of the hills, valleys and winding roads along the way that we faced individually and collectively, but here we are Class of 2014. We’re not completely at our destination, but we’re merely at a pit-stop. This pit-stop is for us to refuel and continue on to the path that has been destined for us. We have exemplified YouthBuild Philly’s core values of Respect, Excellence and Perseverance, not only academically, but socially.

This year has been a an emotional roller coaster for me, but I have been willing to give up sleep and many other things to be able to finish my projects, essays, and other requirements to be here to graduate with you all today and I know many of you all have that same similar experiences as well. The importance to post-secondary endeavors has been instilled in us to transition to college or employment, because we want that high school diploma and vocational training. We want to be successful, self-sufficient young entrepreneurs.

Finally, Carmen’s speech acknowledged the hard work ahead.  She compared herself to the Wingohocking St. house that she and other construction students were in the process of renovating this year, and put on her hard hat during her speech as a symbol of her ability to rebuild her own life and the world around her:

When I arrived at the Wingohocking Project, handed this unfamiliar yellow piece of plastic, I noticed I had two things in common with the house we were about to build: we were both broken and yet we both had the potential to be restored. This house and I were ridged materials, skeletons of who we had been designed to be left unoccupied, un-loved, and un-kempt.  It was there, in that abandoned home, that I openly expressed pain for the first time. I never wanted to face reality. Reality meant my parents were never coming back from the grave and life would not cradle a lost cause. But it was in this place, in remnants of what was once a child’s bedroom, that I saw a reflection of who I wanted to become.

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The epiphany that we were a product of ourselves and not our environment was real and perhaps harsh. Our team had two options; we could allow life the satisfaction of completing its work of demolition or we could take control and reconstruct. For me, that meant giving up what I wanted; fast money, and false happiness for what I needed: Stability. Love. To know I had value. I had to remove the excess debris because building anything takes time, patience, and the removal of things that stand in your way.

Today I stand before you wearing yet another hat — my graduation cap. Today is a day to celebrate but let’s also remember that we are all still works in progress, all of us. Which is why we still need our hard hats. I cannot condone the cliché speech that everything will be alright if you try. Class of 2014, we need one another. Life will continue to throw obstacles our way. Whether we’re physically together or not, we will continue to wake up each day and put on our tool belts, reconstructing lives one nail, stud, and door frame at a time.

At the ceremony, we were pleased to award scholarships to twelve graduates, thanks to individuals who gave to the Class of 2014 Scholarship Fund.  The Young Friends of YouthBuild Philly raised an entire scholarship at a bowling fundraiser last month, which went to De’Shaun Burton.  Carmen Williams received the John Gallery Leadership Scholarship.  The families of  Steven Lawrence and Sean Bolden – former YouthBuild students who, sadly, passed away a few years ago – also raised funds for scholarships, which went to Jamal Johnson, Quadier Timms, and Malik Robinson.

The ceremony was also an opportunity to thank our supporters in the community.  We recognized the following individuals for their extraordinary efforts on behalf of YouthBuild students:

  • Champion Award – Carmen Ferrigno, VP of Communications at Saint-Gobain North America
  • Legacy Award – Makeeda Holley, Director of Workforce Development at 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund
  • Meaningful Impact Award – Hope Clayton, Admissions Counselor at Esperanza College

To see more photos from graduation, visit our Facebook photo album.  NewsWorks and ABC6 also covered the event!

Introducing Year 2 (What’s Next for 2014)

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Although our alumni will be employed and enrolled with organizations outside of YouthBuild, we will continue to offer supports and programming (e.g., TransPasses and counseling) that officially constitute a “Year 2” of our program while our graduates adjust to postsecondary education and employment. This  year of continued support will help them transition fully and smoothly into colleges and careers to achieve long-term success.

So don’t worry, you’ll still be hearing from the Class of 2014 as they embark on their next steps over the course of Year 2! Stay tuned for success stories and updates.

For two students, an early graduation

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In Simran Sidhu’s TEDxPhiladelphia talk about YouthBuild Philly’s core strategies, she emphasized the importance of putting individual students and their needs at the center of our program design.  What this means, sometimes, is being willing to abandon or adjust existing program constraints if they don’t help students achieve success.

Last Friday’s community meeting offered a great example of this flexibility and student-centered focus – but it requires a little explanation first:

YouthBuild Philly is housed in the OIC building on North Broad St., which we share with several other non-profits including Philadelphia OIC, Inc., which owns the building.  In early February, Philadelphia OIC contracted Graboyes Commercial Window company to replace the building’s windows.

When several glass workers showed up at our school to replace the windows, YouthBuild’s Director of Vocational Training Marty Molloy saw an opportunity.  He approached the Graboyes team and arranged for one student – Jerome Kinard – to pursue an internship with the firm.  (Here are photos from Jerome’s first day on the job.)

In April, Jerome took time off from his internship to attend the YouthBuild USA Conference of Young Leaders, and Aaron Warren filled in during that week – which led to his being brought on as a full-time intern as well.

Aaron and Jerome have both fulfilled their diploma requirements (attendance, coursework, vocational certifications, service in the community) with YouthBuild already, and Graboyes was eager to hire both of them and help them enter a union apprenticeship.  The only catch was that Aaron and Jerome needed to have their actual high school diplomas; fulfilling the requirements wasn’t enough.  Unfortunately, YouthBuild traditionally only gives out diplomas in August or November at our graduation ceremonies.

When presented with this problem, however, school leadership decided to make an exception.  It didn’t make sense to hold Jerome and Aaron back when they had fulfilled their requirements and had worked hard to earn new opportunities.

So last week we awarded the two students their signed and seal-stamped high school diplomas.  They are now the first graduates in the Class of 2014!

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It would have been anticlimactic to just hand these hard-earned diplomas to the students, of course, so the school held a surprise ceremony during last Friday’s community meeting.  Jerome and Aaron wore their caps and gowns, we played Pomp and Circumstance over the speakers, and Simran awarded the students with their diplomas.  (Note: Jerome and Aaron will also walk in the official August graduation ceremony alongside their classmates and in front of their friends and family).

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The outpouring of support from Jerome and Aaron’s classmates was the highlight of the ceremony.  Many students still have some requirements to fulfill before August – and some may not graduate until November – but on Friday everyone celebrated this early graduation.  The room was filled to the ceiling with 2014 pride.

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We are so proud of Jerome and Aaron’s hard work at YouthBuild and with Graboyes – and of their classmates who continue to pursue excellence and demonstrate perseverance on their way to graduation.  Please join us in cheering on the Class of 2014 as they enter the home stretch!

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Congratulations Class of 2013!

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Our school reached a new milestone on August 23, when 127 students in the Class of 2013 received their diplomas at our 21st commencement ceremony.  As of Friday, more than 2,000 motivated young people have graduated from YouthBuild Philadelphia since the program’s founding in 1992.  The YouthBuild Philly movement has come a long way since our first class of sixteen graduates!

Dorothy Stoneman, YouthBuild USA
Dorothy Stoneman, YouthBuild USA

Many friends and supporters of the program joined us to celebrate the joyous occasion.  Dorothy Stoneman, Founder and CEO of YouthBuild USA as well as YouthBuild founding staff member John Bell attended and handed out awards during the ceremony.  Other guests included our board members, representatives from local elected leaders’ offices, and staff from our funding and program partners.

This year’s commencement speaker was Martin Luther King III, who was organizing a march in Washington, D.C. the very next day to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and his father’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.  YouthBuild USA was one of the many organizations involved in the Washington event over the weekend.

Mr. King’s speech tied the graduates’ accomplishments to the work yet to be done in the name of civil rights and improving communities.  “Civil rights is alive,” he said.  “And my dad would be telling us that we have to find a way to create jobs and opportunities.  The mantra in 1963 was Jobs and Freedom.  In 2013 it’s Jobs, Freedom and Justice.”

Martin Luther King III
Martin Luther King III

“Where you are in your lives is the result of the energy and the fact that you each of chosen to take a step to take charge for your future,” Mr. King said.  “While this is an important graduation for each of you – and it’s a huge step – it’s not the ending.  It really is the beginning of what you should do within your lives.”

Class of 2013 valedictorian Derrick Davenport also addressed his fellow graduates, as well as the applicants going through Mental Toughness Training to join the Class of 2014 who were also in the audience.  In a speech titled “Don’t Settle for Less, Just Do Your Best,” Derrick reflected on his transformation at YouthBuild, saying “With the help and guidance from teachers, staff, mentors and family members, I am no longer that kid on the stoop.  I’m the father paving the way for my son’s future.”

“Class of 2013, we’ve shown up and produced high quality work throughout the school year.  On the construction site we have learned the skills to build walls, insert drywall, prime and paint.  On academics, we’ve written about our own inspirational leaders, conducted research projects, written narrative essays, and shown motivation. But the journey can’t stop here.  A diploma isn’t enough.  Don’t be scared to force yourself to do better.  I challenge you to sacrifice the person you were for who you are willing to become.  You have proven that you are able to persevere through obstacles.  There are always going to be challenges throughout life, but you can’t let them stop you.   Always be excellent.  Excellence is a lifestyle; excellence is who you became and who you should continue to be.”

To the Mental Toughness applicants, Derrick said: “When there are moments of doubt telling you can’t do it, or you’re listening to people who say you can’t, the real question is: are you willing to work hard enough?”

Other speakers included Excellence Award winner Kyra Butler and Class of 2007 alumna Analicia Lindsay-Whitehead.

Class Valedictorian Derrick Davenport receives his diploma
Class Valedictorian Derrick Davenport receives his diploma from YouthBuild Philly Board Member Erin Horvat

Every year, YouthBuild presents a Legacy Award and a Meaningful Impact Award to partners and supporters of the program who have helped YouthBuild Philadelphia strengthen our program and pursuit of our mission, and paved the way for increased opportunities for our students.  This year we were proud to give the Legacy Award to Scott Emerick from YouthBuild USA and the Meaningful Impact Award to Dennis McDonough from Finishing Trades Institute.

To reiterate Mr. King’s insight, graduation marks the end of a year at YouthBuild – and the beginning of the rest of our graduate’s lives. All of our students have postsecondary plans ranging from full-time employment to the military, and 82 of Friday’s graduates intend to continue their education through college or trade school.  Many of our graduates will be the first in their families to go to college.

The costs of college are a significant consideration for YouthBuild students, who often must pay for their own tuition and supplies in addition to supporting themselves and their families.  For this reason, YouthBuild Philly runs a summer campaign to raise money for the Scholarship Fund.  Thanks to our generous individual donors and members of the YouthBuild Board of Trustees as well as the Young Friends of YouthBuild (who organized a bowling fundraiser at North Bowl), we received enough contributions to give out twenty scholarships this year.  Students can use these awards for tuition or other costs not covered by financial aid or scholarships, such as supplies.

To see more photos from graduation, check out our album on Facebook.  Use the comments section below to leave a note of congratulations to our graduates.

MLK III to Deliver Keynote Address at YouthBuild’s Class of 2013 Commencement

Community activist and son of Dr. Martin Luther King will address former high school dropouts who earned their diploma through the transformational education and community service program.

Philadelphia, Pa – August 20, 2013 – Over 100 former high school dropouts ages 18-21 will receive their diplomas from YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School at a commencement ceremony on Friday, August 23rd at 10 a.m. Martin Luther King III will attend the ceremony and deliver the keynote address.

The commencement ceremony will celebrate students’ growth and achievements over the past year. All YouthBuild Philadelphia graduates have transformed their lives by earning a diploma as well one or more industry recognized job certifications through rigorous academics, hands-on vocational training, and community service. Most students in the Class of 2013 plan to continue their education at a college or trade school after graduating from YouthBuild Philadelphia.

Human rights advocate and community activist Martin Luther King III will deliver a speech to the graduates and their families at the ceremony. Mr. King is currently planning a march on Saturday August 24th in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and his father Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Mr. King will travel to Philadelphia for the day on Friday to attend the YouthBuild graduation.

“We are deeply honored that Mr. King is joining us for this joyous occasion,” said Simran Sidhu, Executive Director of YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. “The national YouthBuild movement of young people reclaiming their education while rebuilding their communities has its roots in the twentieth century civil rights movement. As our country reflects on the past 50 years of change and progress and continues to push towards equality, committing ourselves to the education, training, and unique promise of each young person must be a priority.”

The ceremony will additionally feature remarks by selected Class of 2013 graduates and a YouthBuild Class of 2007 alumna, as well as musical performances by two students. YouthBuild Philadelphia will present its annual Legacy Award to Scott Emerick, Vice President of Education for YouthBuild USA, and the Meaningful Impact Award to Dennis McDonough of the Finishing Trades Institute.

Please note that due to very limited space, this is is an invite-only event.  Only press, invited guests of YouthBuild Philly, and ticket-holding friends and family of graduates may attend.  

Congratulations Class of 2009!

In a commencement ceremony held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 102 YouthBuild Philadelphia students received high school diplomas on August 28. Over 1200 family members and friends of graduates joined YouthBuild  staff and partners to celebrate the special occasion with the Class of 2Class of 2009 Graduates009.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter delivered the inspirational keynote address. He recalled his memory of welcoming this group of students into YouthBuild just one year ago and encouraged the next class of YouthBuild students, also attending the ceremony, to learn from the example of these graduates.

The crowd was brought to its feet by 2007 graduate Domonique Williams, who delivered a rousing Alumni Address to close out the program:

There’s a war going on outside… and it’s going into our hearts and taking away our will. But with every war comes its heroes. Heroes who – in just one year – transformed themselves from the hopeless to the hopeful. Heroes who – in just one year – transformed themselves from the counted out to the counted on. Heroes who – in just one year – transformed themselves from high school dropouts into high school graduates. Heroes who – when many gave up on them – refused to give up on themselves.

More than 50 of the graduates plan to attend college this fall, many at Community College of Philadelphia, and others will continue their education at technical schools or start full-time careers in fields such as nursing care and commercial truck driving.

See more photos from the commencement ceremony!