Phoenix Springfield’s 2018 Graduation ceremony was featured on MassLive on June 19th after celebrating its largest graduating class to-date! Read on, or view the original article here.
SPRINGFIELD — When Kiki Jahmelia Dee Smith steps foot this fall on the campus of Newbury College, a private school in Boston, she will be a typical college student.
Not many people will know that she grew up in foster homes since the age of 3, that she played in a park where drug dealers did their daily transactions, that she saw people getting stabbed regularly and that many kids her in her neighborhood ended up in gangs or dead.
Smith, 19, of Springfield, was one of 23 graduates from Phoenix Charter Academy Springfield who earned their high school diplomas during a commencement ceremony Tuesday at Springfield Technical Community College.
She said although she was taken from her mother at such a young age, she always shared a bond with her and used the lessons she taught her to make it to graduation.
“My mother taught me the values I will always hold in my heart: persistence, effort and responsibility. She taught me that there is dignity in a hard day’s work, she taught me to always look out for my family, to never look down on anyone and to treat everyone with respect,” Smith said.
Smith’s was not the only compelling story. Among the graduates was 23-year-old Ashley Marie Carrasquillo, a young woman who, while working as a janitor in downtown Springfield, became inspired to get her diploma after seeing students walking past her wearing their caps and gowns.
Carrasquillo took the MCAS seven times before finally passing it, making her eligible to earn her high school diploma. In the fall, she will attend Springfield Technical Community College, where she will major in art with the hopes of becoming a leading tattoo artist.
Dante Markquis Estrada, 19, of Springfield, was raised by a single mother. He saw his father going in and out of jail his whole life.
“Due to me not having the classic American life, they try to put a cap on my success by telling me I can’t do it,” he said. “My back has been against the wall my whole life. I use that to motivate me, to fuel me …”
He will also attend STCC in the fall.
All of the graduates have been accepted to area colleges and universities.
The graduation included several student speeches as well as a keynote address from Harry E. Dumay, president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms, who grew up in Haiti and earned a scholarship at age 17 that allowed him to study abroad and changed the course of his life.
Students also heard from several teachers including literature teacher and student advisor Larissa Thornton and Jacqueline Adam-Taylor, head of the school.
Adam-Taylor said that graduates have exceeded the expectations of Phoenix Charter Academy Springfield.
“No matter the circumstances or the odds, never doubt yourself. You are more than enough,” she said. “You are perfect not because you have everything figured out, but because you are always trying to do better. Never forget that, and never forget that you are loved.”
All of the student speakers discussed the pride they feel in themselves and their classmates and the great respect they share.
“I want to thank each of you for treating me like a human, not like at my other school where they treated me like trash,” said Allan Jafed Rodriguez to his classmates. “You have all shaped me and who I am now.”
Smith said all of the graduates have proven everyone who doubted them wrong.
“Statistics say I shouldn’t be here, but statistics can’t measure hearts, it can’t account for the support of a loving mother, or the encouragement of a friendly teacher,” she said. “It doesn’t account for your spirit or your fight. Statistics say I shouldn’t be here, but here I am.”