Five young men received their high school diplomas during a ceremony at the Southwest Oklahoma Juvenile Center (SWOJC) in Manitou on Sept. 29.

Deago B. and Troy D. were among the youth who received their diplomas after completing their course work through the Oklahoma Youth Academy Charter School (OYACS). The five graduates join twenty-three other young men who have received their high school diplomas since the school opened in July 2015. An additional eight youth have passed their General Education Development (GED) tests through the charter school.

Upon presenting their diplomas, Principal Leticia Sanchez commended the five young men on their hard work. She discussed the meaning of the word “resilience” and encouraged the graduates to stay strong as they encounter challenges in their lives.

The invocation was given by one of the OYACS teachers’ aides, Steven Scypion. Onreka Givens Johnson was the guest speaker. Ms. Johnson is a newly elected Lawton councilwoman and the Founder and Director of The Next Step TLP, Inc. In her speech, Ms. Johnson shared stories from struggles she faced early in life and talked about her work with the homeless in Lawton. She exhorted the graduates to have a vision for their futures and to work towards them. “The situations that brought you here don’t define you,” she encouraged.

Following the guest speaker’s address, each graduate had the opportunity to give a speech. The young men thanked their teachers, families, SWOJC staff and their peers for the encouragement and support during their time in school and at the facility.

A reception for the graduates and fourteen family members who were present took place after the ceremony. Two volunteer mentors who work directly with the graduates also attended the event.

In addition to the graduates’ families and mentors, guests at the ceremony included General Counsel Rachel Holt and Shelley Waller, Assistant Deputy Director of Community Based Support Division at the Office of Juvenile Affairs.

Juvenile residents and SWOJC staff also celebrated the graduates’ accomplishments.

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