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Graduate in NY speaks at Her Ceremony

Commencement speaker at Western Suffolk BOCES, New York shares her life journey.

Erica speaking 2018 news

Congratulations to all the recent graduates, I know this has been a long time coming for some of us. I don’t know about everyone else here, but my graduating class was supposed to be Class of 2006. So had I stayed on the right track, I would have finished my last year of high school, spent another year on the honor roll, graduated with the rest of my classmates on time, and received a Regents diploma for all my hard work. But I took a turn somewhere, just like everyone in this room, and unfortunately, I wound up putting the idea of graduating and getting a diploma on the back burner for a while. I can’t say I know the details of everyone’s stories, but I know that I can speak for myself – and after dropping out of school the summer before my senior year, I went on to regret it, and I found that my dad was indeed right when he told me that I would suffer for my decision. Yeah, they all say that you’re not going to go far in life without a diploma, without college or some form of vocational training or secondary education. But when you’re young, you think you have all the answers and that your parents have no idea what they’re talking about or what you’re going through. I know that I certainly struggled later on in life – Every single application for every kind of job asks for your highest level of education. I never knew if it was better to lie and hope they wouldn’t check, or just tell the truth and hope it wouldn’t matter. Of course, it doesn’t help my case at all that I also have a felony on my record – 2nd Degree Burglary. Eh, the things we do for drugs, huh? Everything else on my record is misdemeanor, but unfortunately, they are all for drug Possession. So how many jobs do you think I’ve scored over the last 10 years? I’ll tell you – Zero. I don’t know any of you in this room personally. I don’t know anything about your lives, or what caused you to miss out on graduating with the rest of your class and receiving your high school diploma the first time around. But I DO know how you wound up in this room here with me today – through change, personal growth, ambition, determination, and hard work. You should all be proud of yourselves. You could have resigned yourselves to cleaning bathrooms in fast food restaurants for the rest of your lives, but no. You decided to make a change and put forth the effort to achieve the goal of earning your diploma. You took the initiative and did the work, you accomplished what you set out to do, and now here we all sit, at the end of this program, and we finally can check off that little box on our applications, saying that yes, we did graduate, and we do have a diploma. Maybe one day soon, we’ll even be able to check off the box next to “College Graduate” as well. Some of us are already thinking of our next steps, where we want to go from here. Some of you will go on to become occupational therapy assistants, LPNs, teachers’ assistants, and so on.

Me personally, I plan to continue my education and become a certified drug and alcohol counselor as well as take classes to be a veterinary technician. Since finishing this program I have gone on to become a New York state licensed wildlife rehabilitator, taking in sick, injured, and orphaned wild animals. I have gotten my driver’s permit and hope to get my license finally. I have been approved for my first credit card and started building my credit history and put bills in my name. I’ve gotten engaged to a wonderful man and hope to be married by the time I give this speech. I’ve accomplished so much in this past year, and to think of where I was just a year ago – I got sober in April of this year, after a 10 year love affair with heroin. At my absolute lowest I was homeless, prostituting myself, and completely miserable with my life. I don’t know if any of you here have ever seen the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness,” but there’s a quote in the very beginning that completely sums up the way I felt before I finally got sober. “It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there. That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it. No matter what. How did he know that?”-- The original Thomas Jefferson quote is “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Before getting clean and getting my life together, I thought that maybe true happiness was unattainable, because no matter how hard I tried, it always seemed to remain just out of reach. But since making that decision on April 28 to throw out my needles and finally get my life back on track, I can truly say that I now know how it feels to be happy – I’m not just in pursuit of it anymore. That’s why this diploma means so much to me, as it should to everyone here. What this diploma means to me is a future, it means opportunities. It’s another step in my pursuit of happiness.

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