Douglass School was among the first in the county to mark the end, and beginning, of a journey with its Class of 2017 Senior Awards Ceremony June 1.
Parents, teachers and community members gathered to celebrate the graduation of the 62 students. English teacher George Kitchen said that when it comes to Douglass, many county residents assume the uniforms are orange and the teachers hand out ankle bracelets. Not only is this not the case, but students excelled in extracurricular endeavors.
Students received several awards for their work in art, the literary magazine, creative writing and poetry. Every student was able to participate in some club, Douglass Technology Resource teacher Jason Fournier said.
Graduating senior Willow Preston said Douglass teachers treated her with the patience and humanity she needed and gave her the opportunity to do things that made her happy and that she was able to turn into a career. She works with Ida Lee Park and will go to Maryland university, Mount St. Mary’s in the fall to study biology.
“Douglass saved me from spiraling downward,” Preston said. “Douglass didn’t treat me as a number, but instead approached me with help and questions and I was treated like a human instead of a prisoner. Both principals Ms. Robinson and Ms. Turner showed me the Douglass way.”
Alternative schools are often misunderstood, Preston said. Graduating senior and Class of 2017 speaker Jacy Roberts said he and his twin brother, Makai, transferred to Douglass because of their anxiety. At Douglass, they were able to thrive. Unlike in other schools, Roberts found that when students had problems, teachers’ first instinct was to ask what was going on in the student’s life and how could they help, instead of punishing students.
“Douglass made me who I am today,” Roberts said.
Among the speakers was Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Eric Williams. He praised the grit and determination students showed in the face of challenges, and shared the poem “The Rose that Grew form Concrete” by Tupac Shakur.
“It’s clear that you’ve had many people that cared about you and many of them are sitting in this room today. But perhaps there were times when you felt like that rose growing against all odds,” Williams said. “Like Tupac’s rose, you’ve come through those challenges with success.”
Douglass recognized community volunteers that went above and beyond in serving the school. Students were also recognized for their community service with Mobile Hope, the Leesburg-based nonprofit that serves homeless and precariously housed youth.
Douglass students were instrumental to Mobile Hope moving headquarters, Executive Director Donna Fortier said. She recognized seniors Jose Bonilla, Ashley Boardman and Cinthia Reyes Bueso for completing more than 100 hours of community service. Fortier said Reyes Bueso in particular has worked with the organization almost from the beginning and will go on to college to become a social worker and hopes to come back to work with Mobile Hope.
Seniors Bryson Dolly, Brandon Herr and Gladymarie Velez-Figueroa all earned scholarships to help them as they continue their education.
Kitchen compared the Douglass students to Alexander Hamilton, the founding father who has inspired a hit Broadway musical, which Douglass put on. Like Hamilton, Douglass also has an image problem, Kitchen said.
“Many people think that our uniforms are orange. People thought that Alexander Hamilton, because he was illegitimate, was lesser. And they feel that Douglass, being alternative, is lesser,” Kitchen said. “Over and over again, every teacher here tries to get the light turned on and every student gets to that diploma.”