Friday, June 08, 2007

Big Picture Graduation

Big Picture graduated its first class tonight, with 23 students crossing the stage in a room full of cheers and tears, starting with the first grad to file in. She entered to "Pomp and Circumstance" with tears running down her cheeks.

It's a Big Picture tradition that instead of one or two student speakers, each student takes the microphone for a few words. Here are some of them:

"I want to say thank you for letting me come to this school."

"People here trusted me."

"I know I was always complaining, 'Mayra this, Mayra that,' but she really pushed me."

"I want to thank Nambo, my six-years teacher."

"Gracias a mi mama."

"Thanks to my parents, who always believed in me."

"I didn't always think I'd be on this stage today."

"Thank you to the people who treated me like a daughter and stayed with me when I didn't think I would make it."

"I want to thank my first advisor, who gave me a lot of advice and encouraged me to stay in school."

One student choked up so much he couldn't say part of his speech, so Theo said it for him: "I will miss all the friends I made here."

"I want to thank the universe. I know that sounds weird. ... Thanks to my parents, and to God."


The graduation speaker was Nancy Serrano. Nancy grew up in Back of the Yards, north of Holy Cross Church. She was one of eight children whom her mother raised alone. She graduated from DePaul University and came back to Seward Elementary, her old grammar school, where she taught for seven years. She taught some of the graduates when they were 7th- and 8th-graders. She was featured in an article in the Chicago Reader a few years ago. She now mentors beginning teachers for Illinois State University.

Nancy took the mike off the podium, walked over to the graduates and addressed them directly. She talked about her experiences, especially the struggles she faced when she first started college, then challenged the graduates to follow her example and come back to the neighborhood once they have college degrees: "You have to represent us. The only way Back of the Yards is going to change is if you come back to the Yards. ... I want to come back in four or five years, when one of you is the graduation speaker, when you are leading trips with students from this school."

The class of 07 at Big Picture has two Golden Apple scholarship winners, one going to Dominican, one to Illinois State. Another grad is going to U of I to study animal science. About ten are going to City Colleges of Chicago. One will enter Washburne Culinary Institute. One of the great things about a small high school is everyone can cheer for each of their grads as long as they want. And we did.

Afterwards, many in the audience went to take a look at the autobiographies the grads wrote about themselves. One woman (I'd guess a grandmother or aunt), commented while leafing through a bound autobiography, "I'm going to fight for this school now. This is what we need here. It's crazy to close this down."

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