CHICAGO — Dozens of Chicago CRED students are taking center stage Thursday as they receive their high school diplomas and embark on bright futures.
The graduation took place drive-thru style, there was a DJ and a red carpet.
After dropping out of high school, Leneaha Gist, 27, never thought she would return to school.
But on Thursday, she proudly received her high school diploma.
“I feel good,” Gist said. “I’m happy. I’m excited.”
Gists is just one of more than 80 graduates taking center stage on the red carpet for earning their high school diplomas.
Chicago CRED, with sites on Chicago’s West and South sides, works with young men and women at high risk for gun violence.
By looking at her, you wouldn’t know. But Gist was shot 11 times last year.
“I was like depressed, PTSD, going through a lot and the program helped me come out that shell,” Gist said. “They helped me get my diploma and I’m going to college.”
Ronail Carter, 21, credits the passionate Chicago CRED staff for helping him and his classmates make it to graduation day.
“Our teacher, Ms. Stewart, she took her time to help us on weekends and overnight and everything,” Carter said. “She was always there.”
Arne Duncan, managing partner, said it was an extraordinary day.
“I get goosebumps out here,” Duncan said.
In May, Chicago CRED student Ronnie Roper, who was set to graduate today, was tragically shot and killed in May. In June, Willie Stokes also experienced the same fate.
On Thursday, Stokes’ family received his diploma.
“He told me ‘Titi, I’m going to get my diploma’ and he did it, but the hard part is he isn’t here to receive it,” Sylvia Anderson, his aunt, said.
For students who have beat the odds, like Gist, she says the near-death experience last year turned out to be the boost she needed to follow her dreams.
“They motivated me, they made me want to do something with my life,” Gist said. “My kids, you know, I am here for a reason.”
Gist is enrolled at Olive Harvey College and wants to become a public defender.
From here, graduates are placed in job placement programs to help them secure employment.