PHILLIPS Celebrates Graduation!

This month, PHILLIPS Schools held their annual Graduation ceremonies. For the graduates, this day represents their dedication and hard work to achieve this milestone.  One of the special awards presented at Graduation is the Ty Banks Sustained Achievement award, which is presented to a student who has overcome significant obstacles on their journey to success. This year's award was presented to Justin, a student at PHILLIPS School ~ Annandale. The award presenter spoke about Justin's transformation and accomplishments.  "In order to explain why Justin is so deserving of this award, I am not really going to focus on sustained achievement. Instead, I am going to focus on Metamorphosis.

The word means, “Total transformation”.  In Biology, we use the word to describe a process of development where an animal goes through profound and abrupt changes in body from one life stage to another, often involving a complete change in behavior and even environment.  An example is the Monarch butterfly.

The Monarch butterfly starts out life as a caterpillar, unable to fly, and in fact, only able to feed on one kind of plant.  At some point, something happens to trigger the caterpillar to start to form a cocoon. To shut itself off from the outside world, and enter the next critical stage in its life.

To the outside world, it appears as if nothing is happening in the cocoon.  However, inside, there is remarkable change taking place.  A total transformation.  And when the Chrysalis stage is done, what emerges is a Monarch Butterfly.  A magnificent creature with a whole new world opened up for it.  It has the ability now to take in nourishment from all kinds of plants.  And of course, it can fly.  The monarch butterfly, smaller than my hand, is strong and determined.  It has to be, as it will eventually spread its wings and fly…Over 2,000 miles to Mexico and then back again.

When Justin first came to PHILLIPS, he was building a cocoon.  He was withdrawn and mute at school.  His anxiety was so great that he often could not transition even from place to place.  It was difficult to know what he knew and what he could understand.  He produced very little work.  From the outside, it wasn’t always clear that there was a lot going on inside.

But there was.  And the people that worked closely with Justin and his mother knew that there was potential hidden inside that cocoon.  What we couldn’t figure out was how to help spark the change to the next stage.  I have no idea if that caterpillar knows it will eventually become a Monarch butterfly, and I am not sure that Justin knew what he was capable of during those early years at PHILLIPS.

But just as the butterfly knows when it is time to emerge from the cocoon, something caused Justin to begin to open up.  He began to talk, and began to really show people what he knew and what he was able to understand.  The butterfly does not charge out of the cocoon, it emerges slowly, tentatively.  And so it was with Justin.  He did not immediately take on his many challenges head-on, but tentatively took on some.

However, the process had begun.  After that period of vulnerability, the Monarch butterfly opens its wings and takes a few cautious flutters.  And Justin began to take a few cautious steps out into the world.  This young man that often had not been able to leave the classroom was able to go on class trips into the community.  Justin worked and passed his Virginia State tests.  He began to participate much more in class.

He began to spread his wings and expand his environment.  This young man felt hopeless about ever being able to hold a job early on.  He has worked hard.  He began participating in our off-campus work program last year and this year was chosen to go through the Walgreen’s training program, not just the PHILLIPS internship program.  In the classroom, Justin has been flying as well.  Where once he did not speak and did not participate, now he is a leader.  A leader that other students look to for advice.  He has taken ownership of his education and is able to work and learn independently.  He is able to transition to other rooms for class.  He has maintained an A average over at least 2 years and seeks out opportunities to learn and grow.

Yes, Justin has gone through a total transformation.  A metamorphosis.  He has emerged from his cocoon and is a different person now.  He has begun to stretch his wings and fly.

Justin may this be only the beginning of your journey.  As you set forth into whatever the future holds for you on this graduation day, remember you are not done yet.  Your determination can carry you as far as you want to go.  You are ready, and your wings are strong."

Congratulations Justin!