Graduate Stories from Lighthouse’s College Declaration Day-Believe in Yourself, Work hard and You can Do It

Brianna wanted to drop out, Isabel didn’t think she could go to college, Brandon was flunking, Diana didn’t know any English, and DJ couldn’t read.  Now they are all off to college, marked by a recent emotional celebration on College Declaration Day.

Staff, alumni, families and graduating seniors at Lighthouse Community Charter School came together to celebrate their time together, growth and new beginnings. The Class of 2017, brand new college t-shirts in hand, sat together surrounded by their families, teachers and administrators, and fellow students.

More than half of these graduating seniors have held jobs throughout high school, six have had to repeat at least one year of school, and most have faced systemic problems like poverty and racism. And yet, of the 49 seniors in Lighthouse’s Class of 2017, 46 were admitted to 4-year colleges and universities. One student is pursuing a career at California Highway Patrol, one is taking a gap year with plans to attend college in Fall 2018, nine will be attending community college, 14 will be attending UC schools, and 25 will be attending CSUs.

For these students, the road to college, career, and discovering their passions has not been a straight one. In addition to announcing their college choices, the seniors passed on advice to anxious 11th graders, curious 8th graders, and squirmy 6th graders who shifted in their seats: Don’t fear rejection. Don’t set your mind on one dream school; apply to many. Believe in yourself, even when you feel hopeless. Ask for help. If I can do it, you can do it.

And Lighthouse students have had success in college relative to their peers, with 40% graduating from college in 5 years.  A number that starkly contrasts with the depressing numbers touted in the Oakland Promise for Oakland students in general.   They state that for every 100 Oakland students who start high school: • 67 will graduate. • 46 will start college. • 10 will graduate from college within five years.

Here is a closer look at some of Lighthouse Community Charter School Class of 2017:

Isabel Cuevas (L), SJSU and Neeki Bashiri (R), UCB

Isabel Cuevas: “This is a big step toward my future because there’s been times I’ve doubted I could attend college, and now I have hope. My soccer coaches helped me get here.”

Graduating seniors pose with their college t-shirts.

Brianna Kakos, Humboldt State University

“My freshman year I wanted to drop out of high school and my senior year I wasn’t going to apply to college at all. I told my grandma and at first she was a little disappointed, but she said she’ll be proud if I graduate high school and that I should try out college, even for a year. It was really nice to know she was supportive, because I am the first in my family to graduate from high school. My classmates encouraged me as well, and my brother, who is graduating too. When I told them I wasn’t applying they asked me what my plans were, what I was going to do. They really encouraged me.

My passion is fighting for social justice. I’m excited to go to Humboldt State because I got to visit their campus and it needs someone to advocate for underrepresented minorities. I met people from the African American Center for Excellence, the Latinx center, the Multicultural center, but there’s still so much that needs to be done.

My advice to others is don’t be discouraged because I didn’t see myself here but now I am really excited.”

Isela Chavarria, UC Davis

Isela Chavarria: “I’m making my parents proud. They have been my role models to become the doctor I want to be. I want to tell people that it’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do yet, because that’s what college is for. You should work hard to make your dreams come true.”

Back row: Brandon A. Segundo, Sonoma State; Diana Rodriguez, UC Davis; Daniel (DJ) Acosta, SF state Front row: Brianna Kakos, Humboldt State University

 Brandon A. Segundo: “I came to Lighthouse from a tradition school where ratios were 30:1. Here it was more like 20:1. The teachers here were closer to me. At first I got into trouble, got suspended, was flunking. But my parents had wanted me to go to this school and I wanted to show them that I was here for a reason. By the end of my freshman year I got a 3.8. Junior year, a 3.9  Now I’m planning to do nursing at Sonoma State.”

Diana Rodriguez: “I’ve been at Lighthouse since kindergraden. I didn’t know any English when I came because I spoke Spanish. I still remember how Alex P’s mom translated for me. Now I’m fluent. Lighthouse doesn’t separate us based on language skills, but integrates us into better things. When I tore my ACL Lighthouse had packets of work for me ready as soon as I got out of surgery. I learned I could do things and keep moving on. Last year I started a Japanese Anime club. This year we raised enough money to go to the Anime convention in San Jose.”

Daniel (DJ) Acosta: ”Lighthouse is a home for me. I was always in Special Ed, people would pull me out to teach me how to read. Ms. Kretschmar, my fifth grade teacher, knew my brother and knew about me. She gave me that push that made me love school and that year I learned how to read. Next year in sixth grade I hit the ground running. I didn’t have perfect grades but I had that motivation. My passion was Art and I decided to go to art school to pursue it with the momentum that lighthouse gave me. After that I spent a year in Berlin. That year our principal, Mr. Sexton, passed away. I felt homesick. He had said that there is always room for me here. I was so taken by the caliber of people here that I came back to Lighthouse to finish high school. This is the best year I have ever had.”


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