Thursday, December 4, 2014

Not your traditional graduation ceremony

I thought back to last spring.

I was watching happy and excited crowds in New York City, on hand for a traditional Christmas season ceremony.  But I was reflecting on an experience of a few hours earlier, one that reminded me of happy and exciting times for many of our friends last spring.

As warm weather arrived, there were outdoor receptions for high school graduates, many people posted many pictures of graduates on Facebook, newspaper stories paid tribute to valedictorians and salutatorians, display ads recognized the accomplishments of high school grads from various local institutions.  It was an exciting time, and proud parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters attended ceremonies marking this milestone in the lives of local teenagers.  That isn’t the way it was yesterday at Brooks Correctional Facility, one of three state prisons located in Muskegon.

Nearly 50 students, ranging in age from the late teens to the late 60s, had been patiently tutored by fellow inmates and were finally going to receive their General Educational Development diplomas.  The GED graduates quietly took their seats in the prison gymnasium.  The Deputy Warden and the school principal praised their achievements.  The President of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS encouraged them to keep on learning, and to make a difference.  But there was no audience.

Sons and daughters, moms and dads, brothers and sisters, weren’t there to witness the occasion.

After diplomas were received and the class was introduced, some of the students followed tradition and tossed their caps into the air.  Many didn’t.

There were no big receptions, no parties, no all-nighters to follow the ceremony.

The big treat was home-made cookies, prepared by the prison food tech class.  That was it.

Prison and school officials, Matt and I were then permitted to leave.  The graduates had no choice.  They returned to their cells.

I watched excited crowds at Rockefeller Center in New York last night, on hand to witness the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.  Millions of colored lights came on, and the crowd cheered.  It was the place to be.

For me, the meaningful ceremony yesterday took place under a basketball hoop in a prison gym.  We were proud to be there!

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