Shardae Royston uncovered important life lessons in a set of challenges that arrived relatively early in her life.
Royston spoke as an official representative of the 44 Endeavor Academy students who celebrated their high school graduation during a commencement ceremony held on Dec. 21, 2017 at the University of Colorado South Denver campus in Douglas County. She detailed the adversity that she'd faced on the road to earning her high school diploma, and her story rang true for many of the graduates from the Cherry Creek School District's alternative high school.
"High school never seemed easy," she told the assembled crowd of peers, district officials, friends and family. "But I've learned that life won't always be easy. Endeavor has provided me with a favorable and exciting future … I've learned how to be a member of a team.
"Some of us made it through by winning the battle within ourselves," she added.
A collective sense of achievement marked Endeavor's winter graduation ceremony, as Royston and her peers celebrated a milestone that no one took for granted. In speeches to the assembled crowd and in prepared statements that beamed on the screen as the graduates walked across the stage to collect their diplomas, similar themes popped up again and again.
Many of the two dozen graduates had faced adversity on the road to graduation but all had made a conscientious decision to pursue their best selves.
"You made the choice to change what you had come to know," Endeavor Principal David Brown said during an emotional address to the graduating class. "Your heart carried you to this point in your young lives … In order to be here today, you had to display courage."
Courage and determination have long been part of the central mission at Endeavor, a facility that for years has offered an alternative path for students from across the district who have been unsuccessful in the traditional high school environment. With an emphasis on re-engagement, individualized support and shared responsibility, the staff at Endeavor has always sought to establish a sense of belonging for students who feel as if they've been left behind.
Graduating senior Sasha Booth summed up the spirit of struggle, commitment and perseverance in a stunning musical performance. As she sang lyrics that spoke of facing an "uphill battle" and noting that "it's all about the climb," the message seemed to resonate with every member of the crowd, including the Endeavor staff members.
Indeed, the commitment of Endeavor's administration to every one of its students came through in Brown's words to the graduates.
"You are who I envision as our school's ambassadors," Brown said. "Your dream came true … You are stronger than you believe, you are smarter than you think."
The graduates will carry that message as they enter the next phase of their lives, whether it be college, career training or service in the military. Royston, who spoke of opportunity, cooperation and determination in her remarks to the crowd, wants to ultimately bring those messages of hope back to the Cherry Creek School District; her future plans include returning to Endeavor as a teacher.