Welcome graduates, family, friends, principals, community leaders, the Board of Trustees, and Superintendent Lile.
Life, as we know, can be a maze of dark tunnels where unexpected challenges can jump right out at you. When I was still going to Fresno High School, during my Junior year, I was facing the hardest moments of my life. First, my grandpa, who was like my dad, passed away while I was at school and I remember feeling ice cold that day as if I had died. It hit me hard. I fell into a deep depression. I lost all motivation for band and then, the will to even do my class work. It wasn’t long after that, that COVID struck and the school was shut down. When in-person classes resumed, I had to drop out of school to stay home with my disabled, twin brother. Soon afterward my grandma, who we were living with, skipped town with her new boyfriend just a month after her husband had died. As a result, my brother and I ended up with one of my aunts but that didn’t last long either; thanks to her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, who set the parking lot ablaze with Molotov cocktails blowing up my aunt’s and our neighbor’s cars. While my aunt found a place of her own, we were taken in by my uncle and his wife but a few months later, my brother went to live with his grandmother. Those were rough times. I lost not one but two homes. However, I landed on my feet, feeling shaken and alone.
I had lost every home I had ever known, and I wasn’t even 19 years old. I saw the world, and my friends, moving forward with their lives, while I remained stagnant and displaced. I could not stand the sense of being left behind, and isolated, nor could I run away from these feelings. The only option I saw was to move forward. The great thing about feeling like you’ve hit rock bottom is that there’s only one way for you to go and that’s up. So, I signed up for Madera Adult School, to earn my high school diploma stepping forward into my life and future for the first time.
Committing to attend Madera Adult School was the easy part, the trouble was getting to and from school. My hardest challenge was finding the grit to make that first bike ride to MAS. It is an 11-mile trek one way, with me leaving at 6:00 in the morning, and another 11 miles to return home at the end of the school day. So I biked 22 miles a day, through the scorching heat of summer, the blinding fog of fall, the driving wind, and the cold rain of winter. I overcame goat heads, dropped nails, and discarded wires that would pop my tires like balloons sometimes forcing me to walk the rest of the way.
I stayed hours after class, determined to complete as much work as possible. I carried everything I needed to get me through the day and even things I might need, just in case. It hasn’t been easy. However, I kept at it because I was tired of being the one left behind. I pushed myself and watched the number of credits I needed to graduate diminish in number. I owe my uncle and aunt a big thank you, for taking me in, and for encouraging me to get my diploma. I owe my friends, Mark and Angel, for always being there when I needed a friend to talk to and to lift my spirits. I was encouraged by the help that I was given, not just by friends and family, but the staff at the school and at the Workforce Center. I was even helped by kind strangers, who didn’t know me but could see my struggle, as well as my determination. I was gifted with a safety vest, a bike helmet, tire tubes, and front and back lights for my bike. I was even given a brand new bike by a local Sheriff’s officer, who brought me home the night my old bike broke after a car clipped me on the road. These supportive gestures propelled me forward with a helping hand. I am forever grateful to all of them for their help.
To the graduates with me today, to those students still working to get here, all I have to say is this: give yourself the chance to make your life better and the chance to get what you deserve because you are worth it. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Even if your 22-mile trek seems hard and impossible at times, don’t give up. The tunnel to greatness may indeed be dark and cold but once you make it to the other end, you will emerge into a bright and better future as a changed person for the better. There will always be more dark tunnels in life, some are longer than others and some have the branching paths of a labyrinth, but don’t lose hope. These diverging choices may seem overwhelming but if you follow your heart to your end goal, then you will be fine. Remember, you’re not always alone in the dark, there may be someone there to offer you a helping hand, but if not, you have the strength to be your own light.
In my time here at MAS, I have earned awards and recognition for my hard work. First, Student of the Month, and now Student of the Year- making this speech to you. My plan is to attend Madera Community College in the fall and learn more about Art and philosophy. I also plan on joining the California Conservation Corps and possibly in time, the U.S. National Guard to learn new skills and achieve my future goals.
So follow your light, make the trek, and accept these Congratulations, Graduating class of 2023.
By Jacob Peterson