Angela Bass has been through a lot of challenges in her short life and heard a lot of people tell her that she can’t.
So when she participated in a high school graduate recognition and reception, she was extremely proud.
“It’s a huge milestone for me,” she said.
The 18-year-old and 20 other high school seniors were recognized Wednesday during a program and reception at BCFS Health and Human Services’ Tyler Transition Center in cooperation with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and Child Protective Services put on the event for area youth in the foster care system.
It served as an opportunity to celebrate the students’ accomplishments and encourage them to continue to achieve their goals in the future.
“It’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly,” Collette Stec, one of the state’s Preparation for Adult Living coordinators, said of the occasion. “I’m seeing them transition into adulthood.”
Statistically, foster care youth fall behind in school, have higher dropout rates and low college graduation rates, according to a BCFS news release.
Carla Sash, the transition center’s program director, said honoring the academic achievement of these students helps motivate and encourage them to stay focused on their education and hopefully pursue a college degree, according to the news release.
The Rev. Orenthia Mason, Tyler ISD board president and Texas College’s coordinator of alumni affairs and external relations, was the program’s keynote speaker.
The crux of her message to the students was that God has equipped them with everything they need to fulfill their destiny through his word. She based that message on the Biblical passage found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
“You can’t do anything about your past, but you do have control of your future,” she said.
She told a story about five frogs in a race and how the audience shouted discouraging comments at them. Only one frog continued to the end because he was deaf and couldn’t hear the crowd.
“You have to learn to be deaf to what folks say you can’t be,” she said. “Do not be susceptible to the negative influence of other people. You have to learn to look for the best in your life.”
Each student received a certificate and participated in a “turning of the tassels” ceremony where they moved the tassels on their mortarboard from the right side to the left side to signify they are graduates.
Although this was a recognition ceremony, the students also will participate in their respective school graduation ceremonies.
All of the students had college, career or military plans, which were announced when they received their certificates.
Miss Bass plans to attend Tyler Junior College in the fall and ultimately wants to become a criminal lawyer. She encouraged people who have dealt with abuse or other negative family situations to know there’s always hope at the end of the path.
“You will succeed if you hold on to God,” she said, adding that she’s thankful for the people who have helped her get to this point.
Whitehouse High School senior Haven Hartgraves, 18, said this occasion really marks the start of the next chapter, where she gets to pursue her goals and fulfill her dreams.
Miss Hartgraves plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and become a certified registered nurse anesthetist.
Chapel Hill High School senior De’Andre Escalera, 18, plans to attend Tyler Junior College and study musical theater so he can become a teacher or perform on Broadway.
“I’m stoked, but I’m also scared,” Escalera said of graduating from high school. “It’s a mixture of both.”
Fellow Chapel Hill senior Jonathan Murray, 17, plans to attend the Universal Technical Institute in Houston and train to become a high performance technician who works on race cars.
“I’m happy; I’m ready for (high school) to finish, but I’m not really sure what the future holds,” Murray said.
Murray said his foster grandmother Janice Hines and foster father Lawrence Hines are great people. They’re focused on education and making sure their foster children get what is best for them in their life, he said.
“They respect you as a person,” Murray said.
In her closing remarks, CPS Regional Director Judy Bowman praised the students for their accomplishment of graduating from high school. She said they have had challenges in their lives, but they’ve used them as a springboard instead of a barrier.
“You know that challenges can be overcome,” she said adding that their presence at the ceremony was living proof of that.