I saw the mother of a young man cry last week.
Her tears weren’t tears of grief and loss.
Rather, the tracks of her tears captured a story of love, bewilderment, perseverance, disappointment, faith, despair, relief, pride, and thankfulness.
Her son had graduated.
Such a pedestrian sound to this accomplishment: her son had graduated.
But it’s only pedestrian because high school graduation has become an expected (minimal) norm in our world.
However, it’s a mistake to assume high school graduation is automatic even in a community such as West Vancouver which boasts a 97% graduation rate.
There’s the perception that all the children in this community will make it, that they all have an easy ride.
It’s a mistake to assume that the glittering mantle of expensive housing, disposable income, and stable family is the reality for each child. It’s wrong to assume they will thrive in our high schools.
That’s why we have ACCESS.
Located at West Vancouver Secondary School, ACCESS
“… is an alternate school program designed to provide an opportunity for students who require this unique setting to complete the requirements for high school graduation.
In addition to the basic academic program, ACCESS also provides students with the following opportunities.
- 10 day Bowron Lakes wilderness experience
- Participate in various local outdoor activities
- Access to community youth services
- Work experience
Admission is through an interview process…”
The ACCESS grad luncheon this past week was an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of remarkable young people who had done what is expected of many, but which was not a guaranteed outcome for them.
And in a society which increasingly favours conformity and compliance, they did so while holding on to their unique forms of self-expression, their standout personalities, and saying “I’ll do what you ask, but I’m doing it my way”.
That is strength of character, courage, and conviction.
At ACCESS collaboration is a lifeline. There’s a dedicated team of teachers and youth workers who guide these students and who are joined by representatives from community partners such as the District of West Vancouver Community Services, the West Vancouver Police Department, Vancouver Coastal Health, the Ambleside Youth Centre, and local businesses.
In hindsight, maybe the tears of that young man’s mother did denote loss of a kind. They reflected the grief she’s carried with her knowing her son’s journey has been immeasurably tougher than many of his peers.
But there was more in her eyes.
There was joy. Despite the obstacles, her son had reached this milestone and was publicly recognized for doing so.
There was hope. Hope that it was, after all, going to be fine.
What more could I ask for than to be associated with a system which provides joy and hope to those who are at risk and vulnerable?
A system that is not taken in by the appearance of the community’s “perfection”, but which understands that unless our “diamonds in the rough” have a place to call their own, then our claims of excellence will ring hollow.