It was a joyous and celebratory week on our Pleasantville campus, with graduation events for both Edenwald School and Mt. Pleasant Cottage School.

Wednesday’s ceremony at Edenwald came first. Family, staff, and classmates filed in to a festively decorated gymnasium to honor 13 graduates. Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti spoke with pride and admiration. “Education is the gateway to the future, to a better life,” he said, “all of you have made a choice to pass through that gate.”

JCCA CEO Ron Richter saluted the community of support gathered in the room. “While you deserve all the credit in the world for your accomplishments,” he said, addressing the graduates, “none of us makes it alone. Take a moment to acknowledge the people who’ve been there for you along the way: teachers, therapists, coaches, friends.”

In addition to diplomas, a number of individual honors and recognitions were bestowed, including awards for citizenship, vocational programs, and the Presidential Education Award for Resilience and Accomplishment, which was accompanied by a letter from President Biden.

Staff member Lawrence Ford read a wise and rhythmic poem he’d composed over the course of the year, inspired by the students. The ceremony closed with a touching rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” by the Edenwald choir. With the program over, attendees rushed the graduates to give hugs, high fives, and share in their excitement.

The next day, a ceremony for the Mt. Pleasant Cottage School was held on the lawn. Principal Jessica Harris spoke from the heart about how each graduate embodied the school’s motto: facing challenges, achieving success. “You kept the faith,” Harris continued, “you kept the hope.”

Guest speaker Dr. Alexandria Connally, herself a former foster child who overcame abuse and homelessness, inspired all as she told her story with humor and raw honesty. She then turned her attention to the graduates: “We cannot afford not to have your contributions,” she said. “The world cannot afford not to have your human capital. You have greatness inside you.” Ron Richter echoed the sentiment: “You’ve confronted difficult things in your lives. You’ve confronted a pandemic. And you made it.”

As with the Edenwald students, many of the new graduates already had college acceptances in hand and plans for their course of study. In addition to diplomas, a number of impressive awards were bestowed: an NY State Board of Regents Award for Academic Excellence, a “Triple C” Award from the NY Attorney General, and a scholarship from the national My Brother’s Keeper program.