By Jane Hayes
Rough Riders from Rockford’s Roosevelt Alternative High School trotted across the stage at the Coronado Theatre Tuesday, May 29, accepting their well-earned diplomas. Each of the 170 graduates made their families and staff supporters proud of their achievements, as evidenced by constant jubilation from the crowd.
You see, many of these graduates have not been privileged enough to live the lives of carefree teens concerned about prom, parties, basketball and football games, and social clubs. Instead, they are young adults, who have weathered immense hurdles and had been previously deleted from the rolls of other Rockford public high schools.
We faithful steed or staff members at Roosevelt have figuratively carried these Rough Riders to this pivotal moment by teaching, encouraging, prodding and cajoling them to realize a goal too often lost because of displaced situations and hardships. Many of us paid the $50 cost so our students could rent their caps and gowns.
Under the caring support of our principals, Amanda Jushka and Mike Valentine, Roosevelt staff and students have bonded, making wayward students feel the welcome mat under their feet. Many of our young students are parents as well, and have needed the parenting classes and childcare options that Roosevelt offered. Now, after receiving their diplomas, they can be role models for their own children.
Many of our students have also been legal offenders who have had parole officers and court dates to contend with throughout the year. Too many are homeless teens struggling with numerous changes of address and transportation issues, making attendance a real issue.
How touching the comments were when graduation speakers addressed the audience! The young ladies had trouble continuing because of their tears, and Mrs. Jushka kindly held them to their mission by supporting them at the podium. Mrs. Jushka has been an incredible interim principal whom our staff supported for principal next year. Another speaker complimented Roosevelt’s staff who believed in him when no one else did.
All of the speakers had virtually the same message. None of this would be possible without Roosevelt and its supportive staff! A common theme was reiterated; they had been displaced at their former high schools and found an accepting environment at Roosevelt where they could succeed. People finally believed in them, making all the challenges thus far only hurdles on the steeple chase of their lives.
In the past, I have participated in graduations at Rockford Auburn, Rockton Hononegah, Machesney Park Harlem and Rockford Guilford in full academic regalia with the graduates; yet, this graduation at Roosevelt was even more touching to me because of the challenges our Rough Rider graduates had endured.
Staff members at Roosevelt follow simple dictates of Theodore Roosevelt by encouraging their students “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”
And conversely, students at Roosevelt trust the staff to do what’s right, no matter how challenging. Students feel the acceptance they need to achieve goals because they know “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
The bust of Teddy Roosevelt oversaw graduation, and his words still echo in our hearts: “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”
Graduates, you have succeeded and how sweet it is! We salute the Rough Riders, graduates of the class of 2012 from Roosevelt Alternative High School. You have overcome so much by walking across that stage, and all the rough rides of your past have finally taken you to one finish line.
But remember, keep extending the finish line because your Triple Crown has yet to be achieved!
Jane Hayes is a former Roosevelt Alternative High School teacher and a member of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education.
From the June 6-12, 2012, issue