Event: Celebration Event
Date: June 23, 2023
Location: California’s Great America, Santa Clara, CA
Population Served: Current and Former Foster Youth & Non-Minor Dependents (NMDs)
On Friday, June 23, 2023, 22 current and former foster youth and NMDs gathered at California’s Great America to celebrate their graduation from vocational, postsecondary or high school in the 2022–2023 academic year. Given the incredible challenges these students overcame to reach this day, it was truly a momentous occasion, and some of their greatest supporters were there to cheer them on.
Judge Shawna Schwarz offered opening remarks, sharing, “I recognize so many of your names and so many of your faces, so it’s really exciting for me to be here today to share this event with you.” She went on to acknowledge the tremendous work it took to reach graduation, noting that no single action alone made the accomplishment possible. “It’s not the big things, it’s the little things, and if you keep doing all those little things, you end up successful,” she said. “Keep doing what got you the success that you have now, and you will continue to be successful.”
Child Advocates worked in close collaboration with Pivotal, Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE), and Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) to make this event possible, and the graduates took an active role in the planning. Every decision was youth-driven, from the location of the celebration to the giveaways of fanny packs, gift cards and leis. Each graduate was encouraged to invite a person of their choice—someone meaningful to them—and amongst these guests were several Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteers, caring adults whose constant presence and unwavering support made a difference in the lives of these particular foster youths and NMDs.
Each graduate received a certificate of congratulations from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors before enjoying a fun-filled afternoon at the park. It was the perfect way to honor this year’s graduates and was no doubt a day to remember for all in attendance.
“When kids come to court, I tell them, ‘Baby steps, just take baby steps.’ And if you keep taking baby steps, you’ll be amazed at how far you get. That’s how you got to where you are. Every little decision you make puts you on the right path—the path of success.”— Judge Shawna Schwarz