Family, friends and educators gathered to celebrate the graduation of the latest group of grads from Acceleration Academies of Ector County. The day brought laughter, cheers and more than a few happy tears as young people claimed the diplomas they might once have thought out of reach.
“Congratulations, grads and families,” said Dr. Jennifer Lawson, Regional Vice President for Acceleration Academies. “Your hopes matter. Your vision for your future matters. Your voice and story matters. You are here today because of your hard work, determination and commitment not to give up.”
Dr. Scott Muri, Superintendent of the Ector County Independent School District, urged grads to be grateful for all the people who had supported them — a list that began with family members and expanded to include educators and school district leaders who wanted to give them a constructive alternative to dropping out.
“Acceleration Academies is a reality because Ector County Independent School District partnered with them to make this place happen for you,” said Dr. Muri. “You are each here today because you have partnered with people over the last 18, 19, 20 years that made this possible.”
One of the grads, Nakiya McQueen, had attended two other high schools before enrolling at EAA. She had a good connection with her teachers but said there were too many fights and too much drama among her fellow students.
At EAA, she found the learning environment she was looking for. The campus was relaxed but studious, with comfortable seating, the opportunity to sit by herself or with a small group.
“It’s a quiet environment, peaceful,” she says. “You can do your work.”
Whenever she needed help, she found a team of educators who were eager to help her deal with both academic and personal challenges. She cited in particular life coach Maya Cotton and career coach Elsa Caballero.
“Everything I ever needed, I could call them,” Nakiya says. “They were my support system.”
Caballero helped her stay on track with her coursework, and to focus on her ambitions to go on to college and build a career in medicine. Cotton organized circle gatherings in which she and her classmates could talk about tough issues, and also by working one-on-one to help Nakiya navigate family troubles.
“I was going through stuff with my biological mother and Miss Maya helped me push through to where I needed to be,” says Nakiya. “She is really wonderful.”
Now that she’s graduated, Nakiya plans to enroll in Odessa College and become a medical assistant and, eventually, a surgical tech.
“From the time I was little, I always knew I wanted to do something medical,” she says. “It’s exciting that I could possibly save somebody’s life.”
She’s grateful for the way EAA helped her to get her own life on track, and to tap into her own inner resolve. “They have been with me every step of the way. They really do care about their students.
“No matter what, I’ve never given up,” she says. “Even at my deepest, darkest moments, you gotta keep going, no matter what.”
Here are images from graduation day by photographer Steve Aicinena. You can also check out news coverage of the festivities at this link.