Heading to Virginia wasn’t his idea.
Stephanie Ellis was skipping school and running away from her D.C. home when she became pregnant. She was sent to the Mommy and Me program at Youth for Tomorrow. It wasn’t her idea either.
“None of these kids come here on their own,” Youth for Tomorrow chief executive Gary Jones told an audience last week during the organization’s graduation and awards program.
This wasn’t your typical high school graduation.
In addition to diplomas and scholastic awards, students were honored for accomplishments such as having the most positive attitude and maintaining an off-campus job.
The 10 seniors dressed in blue caps and gowns received their high school diplomas or general educational development certificates after struggling with issues and situations some Northern Virginia students can’t imagine. They were also graduating from the Youth for Tomorrow program and choosing a new path.
“Seniors, God has given you a destiny,” Jones told them.
For McAllister, it had been exactly 22 months and 20 days since he arrived at the facility. It was nine months to the day for Ellis. It had been a long journey.
In that time, Ellis gave birth to her son, Malachi, and improved her grades to graduate with honors. When she announced during her student remarks that she earned a 3.5 grade-point average, she was given a standing ovation from the assembly of students, teachers, family and friends.
“Playtime is over,” she said. “It feels good to be a mom and accomplish what needs to get done.”
With the support of Youth for Tomorrow and family, Ellis will attend the University of the District of Columbia in the fall and plans to study law and criminal justice.
“There’s a sunny side to the end of my road,” she said.
McAllister, who received an “About Face” award, told the audience that he had dealt with his destructive behavior and that graduation was the “beginning of different choices.”
He said that although he was at Youth for Tomorrow, he decided that “I might as well follow the road.” It’s the road that leads away from prison and is taking him to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to study business administration, he said.
“I want to make everyone proud,” he said. “Keep them proud.”