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Success celebration

Feb. 9—MOSES LAKE — The diploma Kadence Spencer received Thursday night was the visible symbol of hard work and success.

Spencer received her high school diploma through the Moses Lake School District's Open Doors program, which is designed for young people 16 to 21 years of age. Students qualify for Open Doors if they've dropped out of high school or they aren't expected to finish high school by their 21st birthday, according to the district website. Students receive a GED, a diploma, or both.

Traditional high school didn't work for Spencer, she said, but Open Doors did.

"I feel like if I would've gotten this in high school, I wouldn't have earned it as much as I did," she said.

"It means a lot. It means a lot. I was very overwhelmed at first when I got it, but it feels good," Spencer said.

About 15 students finished the program at the end of the first semester of the 2023-24 school year, and five of them participated in the graduation ceremony at the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center Thursday.

"There she is," said a proud family member as Monica Ford walked by in cap and gown. He reached out to give her a hug as she passed by.

Ford said her diploma took her about a year and a half.

"It means a lot. I didn't think I was going to graduate, and Open Doors has helped me a lot. I appreciate it," she said.

Administrator Brandon Byers said each Open Doors class has a different story.

"Every year, the group of students that sit here, they're so unique in their journey and their experiences and the obstacles they've had to overcome that each group is so special," Byers said. "It's so fun to be a part of that year after year with them."

The students worked for and earned their diplomas, he said.

"It does mean a lot to me to be on this journey with you guys," he said.

Byers paid tribute to the family and friends of the graduates, along with the Open Doors staff and MLSD staff that helped them reach their goals.

"You guys have probably faced a lot more obstacles than a lot of students have. But you were able to find your through that, by finding those that you can lean on, and by knowing your own strengths," Byers said.

Guest speaker Cynthia Velazquez said she could relate to the work the students put in.

"Two years ago I was standing in this very spot, giving a speech about how much this program meant to me," she said.

Velazquez is now an Open Doors staff member, but things might have been different, she said.

"Like many of you, if I hadn't found this program when I did, I honestly can say I don't know where I would've ended up. It would've been very different from where I am now," she said.

Jacqueline Becerra plans to be a phlebotomist, and said that might not even have been a possibility without Open Doors.

"This program has helped me so much. It's been wonderful," she said. "It helped me get into college. I wouldn't have ever done that without Open Doors."

The Open Doors program allowed Kyler Neer-Orton to study in the way that worked best for him.

"It means a lot to finally graduate," he said.

A family member came over to get a look at that new diploma.

"It's official," she said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.