A spirit of excitement and jubilation filled the air at the Utah State Prison Wednesday, June 11, 2014 as the male and female students of Canyon School District’s South Park Academy clapped and cheered through their graduation ceremonies. The 273 inmates donned yellow and blue caps and gowns to celebrate their accomplishment and acknowledge that, no matter their past, it’s the future that really matters.
“Success and happiness can happen anywhere,” student speaker Trista Chandara told her fellow graduates. “Life will always be full of challenges. It’s best to accept this and be happy anyway. Something we have all learned is that time waits for no one.”
Chandara, who scored a 28 on her ACT, received a $1,000 academic scholarship to attend the University of Utah after she is released. Her success and words of encouragement inspired her fellow students and University of Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill, who offered her two season tickets to the U.’s basketball and football games when she arrives.
Hill emphasized the importance of having an education as he spoke to the inmates during the ceremony. His top two criteria for hiring new employees are whether they work hard and have an education.
“You checked that off today,” Hill told the audience.
South Park Academy’s program helps give inmates the tools they need to go forward and find success after they leave prison, but it also gives each inmate hope and self-confidence, Principal Lory Curtis said. The recidivism rate for participants of the program is less than 27 percent.
Canyons Board of Education member Nancy Tingey highlighted the theme of hope in her words to the audience as she encouraged them to find a way to use their education to help others. For many of the graduates, earning a high school diploma is a dream come true and it’s just the beginning, she said.
” ‘Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream, which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone,’ ” Tingey said as she quoted John F. Kennedy. “Ask yourself what is my private hope and dream? I suspect, for many of you, before today, one of your dreams was to earn a high school diploma.”
See a Facebook album of the graduation ceremonies.