Our 2020 Graduates


On June 18, 2020 LightHouse hosted our first ever Drive In Graduation.

LightHouse students get to plan their own graduation. Of course, this was not their original vision. But in some ways the challenges of graduation this year are more appropriate than ever. Our students are graduating into a world of uncertainty, a world where things, sometimes really big things, go wrong. We all have choices in how we’re going to deal with it.

Our students’ time at LightHouse has helped them develop the skills to move past blaming and complaining and to focus on connected, positive action. Over the course of many, many Zoom graduation meetings this Spring, this crew has worked together and said,  “Ok, we got some lemons here. Let’s rock out a Drive In Graduation.”

Following please find personal stories written by our graduating students, who, like many LightHouse graduates past and present, has overcome significant challenges in order to walk across our loading-dock-turned-stage this June 18.
Also please find the remarks shared by Core Staff member Raffi Irizarry Fields. Raffi is moving on from LightHouse- off to law school!- where he will continue to put his intellect and commitment to social justice to good work.

We are incredibly proud of our fourteen students who shared this unique experience this year. Congratulations, All!

We hope that their stories will inspire you to support our work with a monetary gift. You can sign up to become a monthly sponsor starting at $5/month HERE, or make a ONE-TIME GIFT.

On behalf of our graduates, thank you.

Raffi


In a few moments we are going to be inviting all the graduates up one by one to light their candles in a ceremony that we have been doing at LightHouse since the first graduating class 5 years ago. The ceremony is meant to symbolize that light that each of our grads will be bringing from LightHouse and into the world.

But before we start, I want to share a few thoughts on the metaphor and its unique significance in this moment in time.

We are living in a moment of unbelievable upheaval. Amidst the worst pandemic in 100 years, millions of people around the world are taking to the streets and coming together to fight for equality and justice. We are demanding reform.


We are demanding that those with power and privilege take the time to learn about the experiences and truths of those kept from power, those whose lives are too often taken for and by that power.

The people in this movement, organizing for these changes, have engaged in self-directed learning outside of school systems, and in fact, despite those systems. They have sought out alternative resources from the voices of the marginalized and historically silenced, and learned deeper truths about society. We are now demanding that we awake from the comfort of our mythologies and face the realities of an unjust system.

We see that the education system is itself a fundamental part of the larger structure of systemic racism and entrenched inequality. It is too often a tool to perpetuate rather than to disrupt. Part of the perpetuation is in the material covered. Part is in the structure and format. It is about what the teachers look like and act like. It is about what stories are taught and how. It is in how youth are taught to see themselves and others.

The work of this global movement is deeply connected and parallel to our work at LightHouse. We are a disruptive force by design and intent. What we are asking of our students is to confront and challenge dominant narratives, be critical of systems and structures, and always question why things are how they are. We are empowering youth to ask these questions, seek out the answers, and then incite change based upon what they find.

We want every graduate of LightHouse to look at the world and society not as an unchangeable reality, something eternal, but as the product of specific decisions and actions, all of which should reflect the values and principles of a just society.

And part of getting to this point is not just the academic work of reading and writing and pondering and such, but also engaging in the equally revolutionary concept of self-love, and self-acceptance. To paraphrase the words of Margeret Cho, “when you don’t love yourself…when you don’t find yourself deserving of love…”

“… you will hesitate before you do anything in your life. You will hesitate to go for the job you really want to go for, you will hesitate to ask for a raise, you will hesitate to call yourself an American, you will hesitate to report a rape, you will hesitate to defend yourself when you are discriminated against because of your race, your sexuality, your size, your gender. You will hesitate to vote, you will hesitate to dream. For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution and our revolution is long overdue.”

In order to fight for change and overthrow vile systems, you must first find yourself deserving and your communities deserving of a better one. For so many youth, school is not a place where they are taught to feel this way about themselves or their communities. LightHouse seeks to be different, and I hope that we are.

And I believe that if you look at these wonderful graduates here today, you can tell clearly that this work is happening here.

I know that there are so many people here and in the wider community who have graciously given time, energy and money to this work, and we are deeply grateful. This would not be happening today without you.

And with that, I will return to the ceremony at hand. We are going to each light our candle and take it with us back to our seats, and then metaphorically out with us into the world. I say we because I, too, will be heading out into the world and to Law School, but I will bring all of the amazing people and ideas and feelings of LightHouse with me, and specifically the revolutionary ideals built into the LightHouse Model, and  I will use it as motivation and inspiration to take big leaps, and make big changes in my life and in the world around me. I hope that each of you will, too.



Support LightHouse’s ability to attract and keep exceptional staff like Raffi by becoming a monthly sponsor or making a one-time gift below.


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ChiChi


Before LightHouse I was rough around the edges and coming from a bullying situation. I was always on guard with everyone. If someone looked at me wrong I would be ready to fight. My LightHouse family pushed me to challenge my own emotions and instead of going from 0 to 100 with anger I can now evaluate a situation better. I still have a lot more growing to do, but LightHouse made the big jump to start that growth.

Academically I came from a rigorous college bound school that shaped my mind to think that getting a good grade was all that mattered. I rarely learned any material at my old school and thought you couldn’t have fun and enjoy learning. My old school made me think that working hard wasn’t supposed to feel good.


At LightHouse I was taught how to learn and I had to unlearn a generic classroom, straight forward way of thinking. Personally I was at a tough place and always on defense. I’m a people person but had a tough time evaluating situations where I felt where there was confrontation. I’d be quick to jump to anger and even quicker to physically fight someone. Thank goodness my LightHouse family didn’t give up on me. They saw the diamond in the rough. They saw I was a mentally tough kid that cake from a mentally tough situation. I just needed guidance and that’s what they gave me.

A defining moment for me was last year’s Final Project. Being a spoken word artist, I performed a poem. This poem was meant to show people that despite my aggressive actions and quickness to anger, I truly do love and value everyone. This poem was supposed to show my inner thoughts and my true self to my LightHouse family. Although my teachers have already seen that side of me, most of the student body had not. It was my “I have a heart and I’m just like you” poem.

WHATS NEXT FOR ME????? ME VOY PA COLLEGE!!! I’m going to UMass Dartmouth to study all of the injustices within our crime and justice system. I’m not sure if that major will change, but that’s what it is right now.

“What advice would you give a new student at LightHouse?

Don’t disrespect your teachers, you look like an idiot. On the real… Take advantage of every single opportunity LightHouse gives you. Be a part of the family. Laugh with Carlos and Ashley, build with Raffi. Theorize with Epi. Be weird with Emmett and plan for the future with Catherine. LightHouse is place for positivity and growth. Move forward with it.



Support programming for future students like ChiChi by becoming a monthly sponsor or making a one-time gift below.


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Natasha


I have matured mentally and I learned to put myself away from drama.

I was a poor student academically before I came to LightHouse. My writing skills were not strong and I was very shy. I was immature and unprepared, but now I love writing and other academics. I especially enjoy poetry. I am working, and much more mature and in my own business.

I used to be in so much drama and I didn’t even understand how I kept ending up in it. Now I put myself first and I don’t need drama in my life.

Next year I am planning to take classes to become a PCA, which is a home care assistant and I’m planning to get an apartment.

What advice would you give to a new student?

You got this. Don’t sweat it, and don’t worry about drama.



Support programming for future students like Natasha by becoming a monthly sponsor or making a one-time gift below.


$5/month

becomes a college acceptance letter that did not seem possible.


$10/month

supports a mentoring relationship that can change a trajectory.


$25/month

pays an inspiring teacher and changes a student’s relationship to learning.


Twix


I’ve learned so many different things than I would have learned in high school. We learned what we wanted to learn. We did what we were interested in. I’ve improved in art, math, writing- things I thought I would never get better at. I’ve changed, and also I’m still the same person.

I was not the brightest, to be honest. I needed a lot of help. I struggled with understanding and getting things right, especially around other people/students.

I was always quiet before but now I’m more outgoing. I like to meet more people and get along with them and talk to them and show them around and make a connection. Academically I’ve gotten better during my years at LightHouse with my advisor by my side. She helped me so much.


At LightHouse I found a school that helped me with my life. I’ve realized that I can be someone and do something with all the talent I have in me. Everyone is so positive that it always helped me to push forward and that was an everyday moment.

In the future I may become a baker or study cosmetology. I would like to have my own bakery, but at the same time I don’t know what I want for sure. I have learned so much and I kind of want to do everything, so it’s hard.

My Advice for Future Students:

Just be yourself. Express yourself in what you love to do. Everyone will accept you. You are going to be who you want to be because at LightHouse they help you with your dreams. Just work for it.



Support programming for future students like Twix by becoming a monthly sponsor or making a one-time gift below.


$5/month

becomes a college acceptance letter that did not seem possible.


$10/month

supports a mentoring relationship that can change a trajectory.


$25/month

pays an inspiring teacher and changes a student’s relationship to learning.


Z


I’ve grown so, so much. As a person, a student, a friend. I’ve learned so much more about the world and the people in it. I’ve seen and gone to new places that I never would have gotten the chance to, and met some really amazing people. I’ve grown up and become so much stronger. And I know that I’m a much better person today than I was when I started.

I was a suicidal freshman on day one. I was scared and didn’t think I belonged in school anymore. I needed support and love and that’s exactly what LightHouse gave me. Without that support, I would not be here today. I’ve gained emotional stability and confidence I was nowhere near four years ago. Today, I’m a college student, and I’m so much happier than I ever thought I’d be.


I started dual enrollment in the fall of my junior year. That really proved to me that I was ready to get back into serious academics. The support of Ashley and Catherine in preparation to start college taught me just what LightHouse was willing to do for me, and without their continued support and that of the rest of staff, I sincerely doubt I’d be as confident as I am in my abilities today.

I’m spending the next year at Holyoke Community College to get my Associates in English. Then I’m going on to a four year to get my Bachelors. I should probably know more about what I want to do, but, honestly, I never really thought I’d get here, so I’m probably going to make a lot of this up as I go.

What advice would you give to a new student?

It’s ok to be afraid. This is going to be weird. Just know that staff is there to support you in any way you need, from rides to school to being a shoulder to cry on. Your peers probably aren’t as different from you as you think. Give the plants some love.

Thank you, to everyone at LightHouse that’s helped me grow and persevere. I love you all.



Support programming for future students like Z by becoming a monthly sponsor or making a one-time gift below.


$5/month

becomes a college acceptance letter that did not seem possible.


$10/month

supports a mentoring relationship that can change a trajectory.


$25/month

pays an inspiring teacher and changes a student’s relationship to learning.


José


Each year In LightHouse has made me more enthusiastic about my life and my future!!!

Academically I was fine before LightHouse. I’m smart. But I didn’t want to learn and I didn’t want to be in school.

The day I started LightHouse was a defining moment for me. It was so welcoming and I felt that was in the place I needed to be in.

Next: College!!!

What advice would you give to a new student?

Don’t Give Up! You’re lucky to be here!


Support programming for future students like José by becoming a monthly sponsor or making a one-time gift below.


$5/month

becomes a college acceptance letter that did not seem possible.


$10/month

supports a mentoring relationship that can change a trajectory.


$25/month

pays an inspiring teacher and changes a student’s relationship to learning.


Skylar


I’ve become much more academically focused and self disciplined.

I was homeschooled for almost my whole life before attending LightHouse. On day one I was really excited to meet new people even though I was kind of shy at the time. I was academically unmotivated and focused mostly on my art. Now I am a lot more outgoing and have incredible friends who I love and I am a lot more academically focused. The summer before my sophomore year, I decided I wanted to help people through the medical field. I set my sights on attending college and going to medical school. I worked incredibly hard for the last two years, including taking classes during the summer. I needed core classes to be able to attend college and took a lot of them online, at Holyoke Community College, or with a tutor. My self-motivation and self-discipline are what got me to this point and to college, along with help from LightHouse.


Throughout my time at Lighthouse I have always been in the presence of great diversity. It has exposed me to many different perspectives and ways of thinking. It has been one of, if not the most, important experiences I have had at LightHouse.

This fall I will begin attending Emmanuel College in Boston for my bachelor’s degree in Biology and pre-medicine. I was accepted into their highly selective science living and learning community for freshmen pursuing STEM majors.

My Advice to Future Students:

In order to get the most out of LightHouse, you need to have self-discipline. Search for things you have an interest in and pursue them. It’s important to think about your future even if this is your first year of high school. Do you want to go to a trade school? Or do you want to pursue a college education? Even if you don’t know now, you should aim to be ready for college. I suggest looking up the state requirements for graduating high school and make a four-year plan based on them. LightHouse can do a lot for you but you are the one who has to take the initiative. Ask for a tutor if a class you want isn’t being offered, make sure you are making progress in math, English, and science, and keep up with your advisor. Your advisor can make a lot happen and meeting with them regularly is important to your education, plus they are amazing people who will be up for any conversation. Remember this is YOUR education and it’s up to you to make the most of it.



Support programming for future students like Sky by becoming a monthly sponsor or making a one-time gift below.


$5/month

becomes a college acceptance letter that did not seem possible.


$10/month

supports a mentoring relationship that can change a trajectory.


$25/month

pays an inspiring teacher and changes a student’s relationship to learning.


Sol


I feel like my entire perspective on life has changed since I’ve been in LightHouse.

When I started at LightHouse three years ago I feel like I was in a 5th grade level academically, but since I’ve been in LightHouse I actually feel like a high school student.

The different environment in LightHouse is like a no-judgment zone. I can actually be myself. That was very powerful for me. In other schools you gotta have this ego because everyone judges you there.

Next: College girlll!

Thanks, LightHouse, for not giving up on me.



This is important, life-changing work. Support programming for future students like Sol by becoming a monthly sponsor or making a one-time gift below.


$5/month

becomes a college acceptance letter that did not seem possible.


$10/month

supports a mentoring relationship that can change a trajectory.


$25/month

pays an inspiring teacher and changes a student’s relationship to learning.


Chelsea


When I first arrived, I was nervous and bored at my old school and I was feeling like I was on my own. I had heard about LightHouse through a friend, and I really liked the idea of it and thought it would’ve been a bad idea to stay at my previous high school. When I began I was extremely depressed having previously attended a very overwhelming public school that had many problems. As I spent time at LightHouse I had a chance to relax with a much friendlier community and the learning part of school was so much more manageable.

During my time at LightHouse I began transitioning from male to female and the community was amazing about it, not only accepting but extremely supportive. I also began many fun projects at LightHouse that couldn’t have been completed (or even started) without the support of everyone. Today, I am a much stronger, happier person because of this experience and miles ahead of where I was when I first arrived.

The day I came out to the entire school was very special. Nobody blinked an eye, they just began calling me by my (then new) name and pronouns. It was truly great to be part of community that was so accepting.


What advice would you give to a new student?

Be brave and friendly. It might seem daunting, but the people are great and you’ll probably blend in with the locals in no time.



This is important, life-changing work. Support programming for future students like Chelsea by becoming a monthly sponsor or making a one-time gift below.


$5/month

becomes a college acceptance letter that did not seem possible.


$10/month

supports a mentoring relationship that can change a trajectory.


$25/month

pays an inspiring teacher and changes a student’s relationship to learning.



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Currently 80% of students at LightHouse receive scholarship support in order to attend. This is made possible almost entirely through donations like yours. Thank you!

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“We make a living by what we get,
but we make a life by what we give.”

—Winston Churchill