That is the one word Ricardo Erives used to describe earning a high school diploma; a moment he thought would never be possible.
On Wednesday, Erives achieved his goal of earning his diploma, alongside eight other graduates during the midterm graduation ceremony at the Grand Island Ombudsman Center.
Ombudsman is an alternative high school program run by an outside group under contract with the Grand Island Public Schools. Many of the students have had encounters with the court system or other difficulties that have made it difficult for them to succeed in a conventional classroom setting.
“The thing was I really didn’t like going to school. I had to change that around to get that diploma,” Erives said. “If it wasn’t for them (Ombudsman teachers), I probably wouldn’t have been motivated enough to do it, to be honest. They are the key to my success.”
The graduates grinned ear-to-ear and hugged Grand Island Public Schools superintendent Tawana Grover as she handed them their diplomas. She told the graduates it was a “special day” that she had looked forward to since she began as GIPS superintendent on July 1. Grover said she wanted to offer the graduates “something more than a speech.”
“I want to offer you the opportunity to take this achievement you have accomplished because you can overcome any hurdles that life might present to you,” she said. “There are two things we can expect in life: We can expect challenges, but we also have choices. As you have demonstrated, there are some things you’ll have to put on hold in order to achieve your dreams.”
Linda Sanders, Grand Island Ombudsman center director, said this was the first class in Ombudsman’s seven-year history that all graduates finished their coursework prior to the deadline five days before the end of school.
“Yesterday, no one had to stay until 7 p.m. No one had to say, ‘I’ll make you more sandwiches,’ or ‘I’ll do this or do that. I’ll keep working,’” Sanders said. “These kids knew what to do.”
Grover and Sanders told the graduates to always remember those who encouraged them and urged them to thank those gathered in the audience who believed in them and helped them to get to Wednesday’s graduation day.
“Do not forget, that when you take that next step, there are three (people) in the back and one person right here (me) that you can always come to,” Sanders said. “We encourage you to follow your dreams. You have people you can talk to who will encourage you and help you. You have people right here who believe in you too.”
Ombudsman graduate Daniel Ramirez said his life started going downhill in 10th grade. He said he started skipping school and didn’t worry about his education. In August, Ramirez decided he needed to turn his life around.
“In August, I got in some trouble and I was away for a while,” Ramirez said. “Once I got out, I felt I needed to improve my life if I was to go anywhere. Accomplishing this feels good because I finally did it.”
Sanders said the best part of her job as the Ombudsman center director is seeing her students graduate.
“There are moments in this job when I think, ‘Oh my gosh.’ But this is that moment where I know that I did something,” she said. “They would have dropped out of school otherwise. It’s a great Christmas present.”
The following students graduated from the Grand Island Ombudsman Center on Wednesday:
Mario Castro Villagomez
Aileen Ramos Banda