Celebrating the academic successes of the children in our care is a daily activity at SOS Illinois, including summertime graduation parties each year. As we continue to practice safe social distancing amid the current health crisis, our annual All-Village Graduation Celebration typically held at the Lockport Village was moved to the cyber world. This July, we celebrated the exciting achievements of our kindergarten, 8th grade, and high school graduates through three personalized virtual celebrations, complete with photo slideshows, special guest speakers, and dance parties!
Celebrating a Year of Academic Success
For most children in the U.S., the spring semester of the academic year held additional challenges as students adjusted to at-home learning, separation from the classroom and friends, and a new reliance on technological tools. For the children at SOS Illinois, this new way of learning was even more intense for our kindergarteners, eighth graders, and high school seniors as each one navigated the end of an academic era and prepared for their future educational and career goals in first grade, high school, and college or careers, respectively.
Despite the challenges of celebrating amid the COVID-19 health crisis, we know the importance of showing just as much praise and acknowledgment to our graduates, if not more so! Alongside our awesome Foster Parents, staff, Board of Directors, and supporters, we gathered together for three virtual celebrations honoring our intelligent and hard-working learners!
Kindergarten Virtual Celebration
Kindergarten graduation is a major achievement for those at SOS Illinois as early childhood education can determine much of academic success later in life. For our kindergartens, who have already experienced so much in their short lives, we knew that taking the time to celebrate needed to be just as silly and fun as it was joyful.
After welcoming comments from SOS Illinois CEO, Tim McCormick, SOS Illinois COO, Delphine Rankin, offered a roll call of all of the kindergarten graduates, allowing each guest of the virtual ceremony a chance to see the smiling photos of our littlest graduates. Delphine also offered kind words of wisdom, recalling her own time in kindergarten.
Following the roll call and remarks, a special “guest” provided excitement, encouragement, and silliness to the kindergarten class: The Cookie Monster! Made famous on the program, Sesame Street, the cookie-loving blue monster shared congratulations, made jokes, and provided well wishes to our students moving on to first grade.
Following the Cookie Monster’s appearance, the children enjoyed a sing-a-long and a virtual dance party, complete with laughter and exciting tunes!
8th Grade Virtual Graduation Celebration
The transition from middle school into high school is a major moment of academic success for all children, especially those that are in foster care. As high school drop-out rates are at an increased high for those in foster care, beginning high school on the right foot helps to create a pathway towards success. At SOS Illinois, honoring our graduating 8th graders is just one way that we help our young teens build the confidence needed for four years of rigorous academic achievement.
During our 8th Grade Virtual Graduation Celebration, Delphine Rankin welcomed viewers and took time to introduce each graduate, who were invited to share a bit about what they were looking forward to once beginning high school in the fall. Following introductions, Tim McCormick offered words of praise and encouragement for our 8th grade graduates as each enjoy their final months of summer before heading into the new challenges of high school.
After an introduction from Tim, special guest Jusin Cunningham of SocialWorks offered a heartfelt and energizing message about achieving success, trying your best, setting goals, and reaching for your dreams. Justin, who is native to a neighborhood where SOS Illinois serves, offered a perfect example of what a role model looks like for those within our communities. As presence within foster care contributes to unique disadvantages in academic stability and consistency, having an outside guest recognize the incredible accomplishments of our 8th graders was truly the icing on the cake for the celebration.
Following Justin’s remarks, all virtual guests participated in a singalong to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole and enjoyed grooving to a dance party.
High School Graduation Celebration
As less than 50% of high school seniors graduate while in traditional foster care, our 100% high school graduation rate at SOS Illinois is always a MAJOR celebratory moment. For our teens, this transition into college or career does not only indicate a venture into adulthood but beating the statistical odds that are often expected of youth in care. Whatever track our young adults are interested in pursuing, our Annual Graduation Celebration stands as a milestone where our community can cheer them on, encourage them to strive for greatness, and memorialize every moment of accomplishment that has led to this point.
During this year’s Virtual Graduation Celebration, our gathering looked a bit different but offered just as much loving support. Tim McCormick kicked off the celebration, welcoming our graduates, families, esteemed guests (such as our Board Members and corporate partners), and SOS Illinois staff. Tim offered his praise for our graduates, several which he watched grow over the last year or more, and remarked on what an incredible feat it was to graduate during the difficult circumstances of the COVID-19 health crisis.
Following Tim’s remarks, quick messages of support were shared from some key members of our community, including Board of Directors President, Jim Wolfe; Swissôtel Chicago General Manager, Ted Selogie, Illinois State Senator, Mattie Hunter; and SOS Illinois supporter and OneRepublic Guitarist, Zach Filkins.
Delphine Rankin then invited all graduating seniors to speak and share what plans they had for the next year, whether studying at a university or community college or moving out into the working world. For all attending, it was a wonderful moment to hear about the excitement and preparedness our young adults felt for their future, as well as their gratitude for their Foster Parents and their time within our community.
Following remarks from our of our graduates, Tevin Marbeth – New Orleans-based actor and SOS Illinois alum – shared a motivating and relatable address with our young adults, reminding them that he once stood where they are standing and has been able to accomplish so much as the result of the love, skills, and support he received during his time at SOS Illinois.
The Importance of Stopping to Celebrate
At the beginning of the high school senior celebration, Tim shared the key as to why we gathered for each of our virtual events to celebrate despite the difficult circumstances of these times.
“We’ve been able to see kindergarten, 8th grade, and high school graduation and all the progressions,” Tim shared at the virtual gathering. “In all those instances we all realize that we do not do this alone.”
By honoring the incredible accomplishments of each of our graduates alongside the support of our diverse Foster Parents, staff, and supporters, we collectively recognize our Village Model of Care in action, in which the success of an individual directly correlates to the strength of the larger community.
Wherever each of our students moves to next – whether first grade, high school, college, or beyond – we know that our Village Model of Care lives on in their legacy, showing others just what happens when a Village bands together to care for children and teens in foster care.
Empower the Growth of our Future
SOS Illinois’s College Bound and Beyond Program empowers our children to achieve more. We are truly grateful for all the support provided to this program focusing on educational initiatives at our organization. We would like to especially thank: Mission and Ministry, Chicago Blackhawks Foundation, and AT&T.
To continue building upon the successes celebrated during our three virtual graduation celebrations, you can make a gift to SOS Illinois today in honor of our 2020 graduates. By making a gift online, you help safeguard the future of the children we serve, helping us to celebration a 100% graduation rate year after year!
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