High School graduates blaze the trail and inspire

This newsletter was sent to our Saint Leonard’s community email subscribers on June 18, 2024. If you would like to receive future news from Saint Leonard’s, join us and subscribe to receive email updates.

Twenty years ago, Patricia Anderson heard about the Sister Jean Hughes Adult High School at Saint Leonard’s Ministries.

“But I just never got around to it. Anxiety would set in. Life showing up would set in,” she says. “But this particular time, I was working part time and it just fit. I don’t even know if I was ready. I didn’t give it too much thought.”

“I just jumped in.”

Now the 64-year-old is the valedictorian of the class that graduated on Friday.

“I’m almost on the verge of tears even trying to explain it. My mom, I didn’t know until she passed, that she wanted me to graduate. I can’t even put into words the sense of achievement,” Anderson says.
The 14-week program meets four days each week and ends with a graduation certificate that alumni can use to pursue secondary education and employment opportunities that require completion of high school.

For Abigail Aceituno, the Student Support Services Coordinator, the program is a bridge to conclude the high school journey many started in their youth.

“It means something different for all of the students. They each have really powerful stories and reasons why they walk through our doors,” Aceituno says. “For a lot of them, it’s a sense of accomplishment. I don’t know how often we hear students say, ‘This is something I need to do, and it’s finally time.’”

Guided by teachers who have master’s degrees, the students write essays, tackle homework assignments and take midterms and final exams. Classes include Africana Studies, Composition & Literature, Communication, Social Studies, Mathematics, Computer Skills, Science and Financial Capabilities.

Like everything else at Saint Leonard’s, there are second chances. Students must meet or surpass a 70% score in every subject to graduate.

“Even when you have an individual who didn’t make it, to see them light up when they do it over again and they accomplish it, it means even more because they pushed through everything,” says Gloria Riley, the Completion Program Coordinator. “Knowing and understanding that if you keep pushing, you will accomplish it.”
Bobby Blake, 46, earned the second-highest overall score of the latest class to qualify as the salutatorian. His prior educational experience ended in the 10th grade as he lacked a supportive environment as a child.

“‘I love you’ wasn’t in my household. I used to hear things like, ‘You’re stupid.’ I went to school by force and never did anything – just sat there all day,” Blake says.

A heroin addiction fueled an arrest-incarceration cycle, and Blake resumed school in prison. There he learned that taking timed-tests does not work best for him.

“I realized I wasn’t stupid,” he says.

With 13 months of sobriety, Blake has developed a clear mind.

“I’m stepping out and doing things, accomplishing things and it makes me want to accomplish more. And I heard about the Barlow Center at Saint Leonard’s, and people encouraged me that I could do it. And they told me how it was a program where they help you, so I tried it.”

Now Blake is “pinching myself” at the idea of being a graduate – and one of the top students in the class.

“That means a lot to me,” he says. “I’m finding myself at the top of everything I do now. I know there’s students in the classroom smarter than I am, but for some reason, I knew I would be on the top of something in this classroom. Just putting in all that effort and the struggle and enduring it, is rewarding in of itself.”

After graduation, Blake will seek employment as a case manager at a social service agency. Anderson will celebrate her 12th year of sobriety from alcohol next month, and the certified nursing assistant will pursue a license to become a registered professional nurse in 2025.

“It’s just such a self-assurance to have completed high school,” Anderson says. “I can’t stress how I’ve been wanting this for over 40 years. And God gave it to me when I got sober.”

Graduation means something different to each student – who have ranged in age from 21 to 68 years old since the first class in 2001. The graduation ceremony is an uplifting affair that can remind anyone of the value of setting and reaching a goal.

“The students are carrying a lot,” Riley says. “We had one graduate who said she was doing it for her grandchildren because she didn’t feel comfortable telling them ‘stay in school’ when she didn’t. And they never knew.”

To the students who will enroll in the future, Anderson and Blake have a message.
“In the end, you’re going to be pretty shocked and surprised that you actually accomplished something that you only complicated in your mind,” Blake says. “It’s definitely doable.”

Added Anderson:

“I won’t tell anybody it’s an easy program. But Gloria suggested something I took and ran with. She suggested you do the homework when you get it – that night. Getting the work done, after 40-something years, took work. It took work and dedication, which to my own surprise, I didn’t even know I was capable of.”

“But just be willing to do it. You sit down those few hours in the evening, take an hour or two to do the homework, and get it in. Do whatever it takes to do this.”

Stay in the loop with news and stories from our alumni!

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
White Circle Design

Contact Us

(312) 738-1414

2100 W. Warren Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60612


Stay Connected

Copyright © 2021 – 2024 · Privacy Policy · Website by Blue Hills Digital