President Donald Trump and those in his administration carrying out his immigration policies could learn a lot about the rich immigrant history of Lawrence by meeting the recent graduates of Phoenix Academy Lawrence.
The 25 young men and women who walked across the stage last week brought rich cultural histories from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti and many other countries to the resilient, strong city of Lawrence.
In the Lawrence we know, these graduates are products of the American Dream. They leveraged the opportunities that Phoenix and the Lawrence Public Schools gave them to forge bright futures for themselves, their families and the city itself.
They overcame the move to a new land; they gave themselves a second chance after failing in traditional school settings; they developed a work ethic that will take them far and our country even further.
As they proudly accepted their diplomas, they relished their achievements and celebrated with their families. Many of them will be the first in their families to go to college.
Luis Bautista is a 19-year-old graduate from Puerto Rico. He came to Phoenix in 2013 still struggling to learn English and battling cultural barriers. At Phoenix, he learned to become part of a community of learners. He found a love of reading and developed the confidence to speak up in class and for himself. It took him five years of hard work to reach that stage.
“I believe in myself. I crossed the stage because I worked hard, not because I had an easy journey,” he wrote in his graduation essay. “As I got to know people, I started to feel like I belonged, like I was important, and like I would graduate. My journey doesn’t end there.”
Luis plans to become a software engineer and then go to business school.
Maria Rodriguez came to America from the Dominican Republic when she was 12 - first to New York City and then to Lawrence. She had to learn a new language and a new culture.
In her sophomore year at her high school in New York, she felt bored and started to make bad choices. This led to her move to Lawrence and eventually to Phoenix.
After all of her hard work and dedication, Maria will graduate and is deciding between enlisting in the U.S. Army, becoming a police officer, or going to college to study criminal justice.
Danny Nuñez Perez came to America from the Dominican Republic when he was 8 years old. His parents told him they were seeking a better life for him in America, and last week they watched their dream for their son become reality.
Danny enlisted in the U.S. Army and plans to become a fire control specialist. He will ship off to basic training in July.
Llinosky Severino was born in Lawrence to an immigrant family from Puerto Rico. She spent part of her childhood here in Lawrence and in Puerto Rico. She enrolled in Phoenix to start her sophomore year but returned to Puerto Rico after only a month.
She became pregnant at age 18, and during her pregnancy Hurricane Maria struck the island.
“There was barely water and electricity, and my doctor’s office blew up,” she says.
At her mother’s insistence, she returned to Lawrence to live with her father. Remarkably, she finished her high school studies while giving birth to her son in March. He was with her when she received her diploma.
She plans to attend Northern Essex Community College and complete its EMT program before continuing her studies to become a nurse.
“Everything I do from now on is for my son, Liam,” she says. “I want him to always be proud of me.”
Wilfry Garcia was born in a small town in the Dominican Republic, came to the U.S. in 2011 with his family and settled first in Providence, Rhode Island. He struggled with adjusting to American culture and desperately wanted to return to the Dominican Republic.
After moving to Lawrence and enrolling in middle school, things began to change. He built friendships and set goals. He overcame obstacles that threatened his potential.
He plans on pursuing a degree in electrical engineering.
“I know these challenges will help me reach my goals and become the man I know I can be,” he says.
These are the faces of Phoenix. These are the faces of courage.
And, yes, these are the faces of America.
Tamara Soraluz is head of school of Phoenix Academy Lawrence, and Beth Anderson is founder of the Phoenix Charter Academy Network, which operates three public charters focused on serving disconnected students with rigorous academics and the support needed to succeed in school and become self-sufficient adults.