(The following was a graduation speech by a girl graduating from Discovery School of Virginia. We republish it since it is a great view of what this school is about from the view of a student who changed her thinking from her experience here. Her name has been removed and this is printed with permission. -Lon)
When I was sent to the Discovery School, it was clear to me that it was my last resort. My grandparents had no idea what to do for me, and the program that I had attended previously didn't know how to help me. They had never dealt with anyone so stubborn, unmotivated, and manipulative before and had no other option but to send me elsewhere. When I arrived at the Discovery School, I was already aware of the fact that this school was different. Not just in the way that it looked, but also with what it taught. The biggest difference that stuck out to me was that everyone was so nice. The self-conscious feeling that I got around the people at my last program seemed to disappear.
There are many things that I became aware of in my first couple of months of being at the school. One was that, no one liked excuses. Excuses were one of my greatest ways to get out of something. It had always worked for me at other programs. Why was it different here? The second thing that I became aware of was that people could sense insincerity from a mile away, especially from me. I never meant what I said, and didn't care about how you felt. I wondered constantly how people could tell that I wasn't being honest. I always got away with things at other programs and I asked myself the same question again, why was it different here? I started to believe my group members when they said that this program was unlike many others. I became very scared. I was always able to outsmart people, to not work as hard as I said I was, and to lie straight to their face and not feel guilty, but now the bad habits that seemed to become second nature to me were going to have to be broken.
I was pushed more in this year than I ever have in my life. If it weren't for this school, I would still be lying, stealing, treating my family poorly and probably dealing with my anger the worst way possible: with drugs and alcohol. I would have never realized that I am extremely talented, and would have never known how to make the strong relationships I have today. If my group leaders hadn't set high expectations for me, I would never have known how much potential I have. If my group hadn't urged me to open up, I would never have been able to trust people, or deal with the problems I encountered in the past that I kept inside for so long.
I have many people to thank and feel grateful for at this school. First, I would like to thank my group leaders, Miss Hunt and Miss Fahey. I am really grateful for people like you in my life. You have set great examples of the person that I want to be when I am older. I have seen you work hard and sacrifice many things to help and I will never forget it. Miss Evans, at first I had no idea how someone could have such a great attitude about life. I want to thank you for helping me realize that the problems that I go through on a day- to-day basis are not as bad as I may think they are. The biggest thing I want to thank you for is the determination you had with me through every issue and out of group. You didn't let me give up, and in your eyes, "not putting100 percent into everything I did was not an option." Mr. Browning, I want to thank you for the amount you have helped me and my family. Without you, we wouldn't have been able to solve our problems and be in the place now where I feel like a family again. I want to thank Mr. Nolt, Miss. O'Bannon, and Miss. Slocum. You have also impacted my time at the Discovery School in one way or another. I am grateful to have been able to build relationships with all of you. Miss Pratt, Mr. Case, and Mr. Booker, I want to thank you for helping me excel in school. I never thought I could get to the point where I feel like a confident writer, and feel proud about how much I have pushed myself in mathematics.
I feel like I have been given many great opportunities at this school. I was able to redecorate a conference room, and give a presentation in front of the whole school about something I love to do. I want to thank, again, all the teachers and Mr. Mellusi for giving me the opportunity to redecorate the conference room. I never thought I would be able to reach that level of artistic ability and commit myself to something from start to finish. All of you have enabled me to have an exceedingly greater amount of confidence in myself. I want to thank all the previous students who came to my graduation. It has became apparent to me that the relationships that I have made here are real. I am grateful that all of you came this way to be here with me.
I want to thank my group, Sequoia. I couldn't have been placed with a funnier, loud, caring, and compassionate group of girls. We are all so different on the outside, but on the inside we feel a lot of the same emotions and fears that have brought us closer. I have enjoyed and treasured this last year with all of you. For some, my time with you has been short, and for others, our time together has been significantly longer, but we have still made great memories that I will remember for the future to come. I want you all to know that this is not goodbye. This is the first time that I have felt like my relationships mean something. We may not see each other each day, but I will write and call, and show you that I still care about each and every one of you.
Last but not least, I want to thank my family. This has been a long, winding road with a lot of ups and a lot of downs. I couldn't be more grateful than I am now. You have been persistent with me through program after program, and I would never have realized how much you cared if it had not been from the weekly letters, the flying back and forth for visits, and the motivating words whenever we talked on the phone, and the amount you have also grown throughout this entire process. I know there are going to be hard times when I come home, but I feel more confident that as a family, we are going to be ready to deal with those problems a lot better than we did before.
When I was younger my grandpa always told me to repeat this saying to myself, "I believe in me". I would never repeat it because I believed that I wasn't going anywhere in life and didn't believe that I could be this happy and fulfilled. When I think about those words now, I don't feel sad or angry; I feel a surge of confidence, and, most importantly, I feel like I can accomplish anything.
Discovery School of Virginiaserves teenage boys and girls ages 11 - 17 who are experiencing emotional, behavioral, and learning problems. There are separate campuses for boys and girls. Each school is located in the picturesque Piedmont region of central Virginia.