SENECA – Despite having the odds stacked against him, Seneca Ombudsman student Joeseph Gagnon earned his diploma in May.

Prior to graduating, Gagnon shared the story of the adversity he had faced in an essay submitted to the Ombudsman Operation Graduation essay contest.
Gagnon’s story of his rocky semester was so moving that his essay won second place in the national competition.

“I was actually surprised,” Gagnon said. “It’s a sad story and all, but people don’t always like sad stories.”

Near the end of his junior year in the Seneca R-7 School District, Gagnon dropped out of school.

He sat out the fall semester of his senior year, and fell 17 classes behind being able to graduate.

It was in January, when the Ombudsman Alternative School opened its doors in downtown Seneca, that Gagnon decided to give school another try.

Ombudsman is an organization based out of the Chicago, Ill. area. They offer at-risk students an alternate route to earn a high school diploma by partnering with school districts throughout the country. Currently they have locations in 20 states and are accredited through AdvancED, a unified organization of accreditation outlets. The Seneca location is their second in the state.

“I returned to the Ombudsman school with one semester to finish a collective of seventeen classes, the odds were never in my favor,” Gagnon wrote in his Ombudsman essay.

Only two weeks into January, Gagnon was faced with a family tragedy, when his son was stillborn.

“He was the only reason I returned to school,” Gagnon wrote in his essay.

Once he returned to school, Gagnon said he began to work harder than ever.

“When my son passed it just gave me incentive and I did it for him,” Gagnon said. “I would take assignments home, and would do eight hour sessions.”

Most students attending the Ombudsman Alternative School in Seneca take four hour sessions of classes, either morning or afternoon, however Gagnon doubled up, doing both while also holding down a full-time job.

Amanda Rinehart, Seneca Ombudsman director, said Gagnon would not have been able to finish in one semester had it not been for his work ethic.
“Once he got that hunger to see that diploma, he worked harder,” Rinehart said.

However, Gagnon faced another tragic obstacle, when he lost his mother in mid-April.

“With the teachers and a few friends standing by my side, I came in with a renewed dedication,” Gagnon wrote in his essay. “I finished completely with one day to spare. I had recovered all my credits, I had played the game with the odds against me and I had won with a stroke of luck.”

He says he owes much of his success to the help he received from teachers at the Seneca Ombudsman school.

“It really wasn’t just me, my dedication faltered a lot, without them I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Gagnon said.

Though Gagnon missed the deadline to get to walk with his fellow graduates, he still received his diploma.

Rinehart said it was the first diploma she got to hand out since the center has opened.

“He represents what we’re really trying to achieve over here,” Rinehart said. “To give these students a chance, even if they’re behind, to go out and be effective in the world.”

Following graduation, Gagnon enlisted in the United States Army and is scheduled to leave for training on Jan. 8, 2013.