“Thank you for saving my son.”

Students who graduated this year from Simon
Youth Academy at Northgate Mall in Seattle, Washington heard remarks from a
non-traditional commencement speaker – their classmate’s mother.  Jen Gonyer-Donohue shared the following
reflections on her son’s year at the Academy and the positive impact her family
has experienced:

I
must admit: it feels a bit strange standing up here in front of all of you when
I’m not an Academy student. I’m not a teacher. I’m not a Seattle celebrity,
politician, or a local hero who did something amazing in the community. I’m
just a mom… a mom whose heart is bursting with happiness for every single one
of you tonight.

I
was asked to speak for a few minutes and reflect on Simon Youth Academy at
Northgate Mall and to share “our story.” There’s a problem with sharing “our
story” though. You see, our story begins at a very low point in our lives, when
another school failed us and was bringing us to our knees – the last school in
the district to do so in a long string of schools starting in 2002. But instead
of rehashing the negative historical context, I want to tell you about a year .
. . this last school year at the Academy.

This
last year at Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall, my son was given the
opportunity take as many classes as he wanted so that he could finally learn at
his own pace. The first day of the school year in September, he had the credits
of a junior. Today, he is a graduated senior.

This
last year at Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall, my son was no longer
micromanaged and coddled to death by the IEP system. Instead, his teachers
presented opportunities to him, guided him, but ultimately held him accountable
for his own learning and progress. He rose to the occasion and learned –
finally – what it means to take responsibility for his own education. The
teachers at the Academy empowered him to take control of his own learning.
Instead of treating him as a child in a state of arrested development, the
Academy allowed him to grow and transition into adulthood.

It
hasn’t been easy. There is the old saying about leading a horse to water… and I
must admit there are some days I poured the water down the horse’s throat. But the
Academy gave us that water.

One
year ago this month, we found ourselves begging our son to not drop out. We
understood how awful school was for him, but it was all we could do to keep him
in. Fast forward one year later, and my new high school graduate is researching
community college programs and filling out applications for next fall. I can
only attribute this to Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall.

Thank
you for saving my son. Or better put, thank you for giving my son the chance to
save himself. Thank you for empowering all of these graduates to advocate for
themselves, and to take control of their own education and destiny. Simon Youth
Academy at Northgate Mall is a success because each one of you is a success. 

I’m
looking out at the audience and see many people nodding their heads in
agreement. I am sure that if we passed the mic around, many of you would share
similar sentiments of gratitude to the Academy.


Graduates,
please know that all of us – family you were born into and family you created,
guardians, friends, and everyone who loves you – we are all terribly, terribly
proud of you and we know you will do amazing things with your lives. Now go out
there and do good in the world and continue to make us – and yourselves –
proud.

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