4th Annual Dream BIG Graduation Celebrates Foster Youth Virtually

June 5, 2020
Ryan Imondi

Children’s Institute held its 4th Annual Dream BIG Graduation on Thursday to honor the accomplishments of foster youth graduating high school and attending college this fall. While this year’s event took place on Zoom due to COVID-19, and during a week of global protests and unrest, the graduation focused on a hopeful future where foster youth will join a new generation of leaders.

Actor/comedian Anthony Anderson, Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels, and Netflix’s VP, Original Series/CII Trustee Channing Dungey addressed the graduates by offering words of hope and inspiration, while DJ Lani Love treated the seniors to a well-deserved dance party.

Actor/comedian Anthony Anderson recorded a message for the ITSP youth graduating high school.

“You are truly a remarkable group of people,” Anderson said. “Your resilience, determination and your grit is what made you make it here as high school graduates.”

Each graduate is part of CII’s Individualized Transition Skills Program (ITSP), which is designed to empower foster youth ages 16-21 to be successful, independent adults through wraparound services focused on improving education and employment outcomes. Young people work with their own CII Transition Development Specialist (TDS), who serves as a combination of counselor, role model and life coach.

Nationally, youth growing up in foster care are three times more likely than their peers to drop out of high school and fewer than 13 percent will attend college. In total, only 3 percent will earn a college degree.

Carlos delivered a speech on behalf of ITSP youth during the ceremony.

Evelyn Medina, ITSP Supervisor, said youth in foster care face a number of additional challenges that contribute to low national graduation rates. They often move between multiple foster homes and schools, and the lack of permanence puts many at-risk of homelessness.

Of the 125 eligible seniors in ITSP, 114 are graduating high school and 104 are enrolled in some form of higher education.

“This is a huge milestone that has taken a lot of dedication, persistence and resiliency,” Medina said.

The 91% graduation rate for ITSP youth is due in a large part to their relationship with staff. TDS have a one-on-one relationship with foster youth and are always ready to pick up the phone and respond to whatever need pops up. This can mean everything from driving a youth to a DMV appointment, working through college applications or shopping for work clothes.

Netflix’s VP, Original Content, and CII Board of Trustee Channing Dungey addressed the graduates with a speech closing out the ceremony.

Carlos, the Dream BIG youth speaker delivered a speech on behalf of ITSP, and specifically thanked his TDS Wendy Gomez. Carlos will be a freshman at the University of La Verne next fall and will be the first person in his family to attend college. He said he hopes to one day become a neurosurgeon.

“I want to congratulate every single one of you for being here, because even with all the statistics stacked against us, we can overcome anything we put our minds to,” Carlos. “Continue to inspire change in the world and continue doing what you are doing.”

Congratulations to the Class of 2020!

Read Carlos’ commencement poem below:

Today is the day my life begins
I choose to be accountable,
I choose to be responsible
To live a better life.

Today is the day I begin to live.
I choose to be true to myself,
I choose to be honest,
To live the life I’ve always wanted.

Today is the day I learn to love
I choose to love those who doubted me,
I choose to bestow my warmth on those who believed in me,
To live a life with the people I love

Today is the day I become responsible,
I choose to face my problems,
I choose to accept the consequences,
To live a life without regret.

Today is the day I accept my faith,
I choose to believe in soulmates,
I choose to believe in what can be,
To live a life full of happiness.

Today is the day I realized what life is,
I choose to take every opportunity,
I choose to take action,
To live life to the fullest.