Carolina Ramirez lost the fight to hold back her tears on Friday, but she won the battle to graduate from high school.
More than 100 people funneled into Pace Center for Girls, in Bradenton, to watch Ramirez and seven other young women as they celebrated their accomplishments.
Whether they transition from Pace to a public school, or they graduate from Pace’s own campus, the center helps girls through their middle and high school education. The girls may arrive after struggling in traditional classes, dealing with anxiety, enduring domestic violence, struggling with substance abuse or coping with a loved one’s incarceration.
The reasons are endless, but love and support seem constant at Pace.
“We had our laughs and we had our tears, and I’ll never forget that,” Ramirez said, addressing one of the teachers. “You pushed me to do better and you did not give up on me.”
After a short speech, the graduates handed flowers to their mentors and loved ones. Teachers became family, and the future seemed more welcoming, they said.
Along with her family, Meagan Robbins thanked a Pace counselor for helping her reach graduation.
“When I met you back in February I wasn’t in the best place, but with your help I’ve never felt better,” she said. “There have been some bumps along the way, but we’ve always found a way to move forward.”
Strong support helps, but success is impossible without dedication. Amy Wick Mavis, executive director of Pace Manatee, said the center offers girls an opportunity, not a guarantee. They have to want success.
“At Pace we say, ‘Find the great in every girl.’ Sometimes that great is hidden behind an attitude,” Wick Mavis said, prompting laughs and audible agreement among Friday’s guests.
It seems more girls are motivated to enter the program than ever before. The center is working to raise money and expand both its facility and operations, Wick Mavis said, adding that Pace centers are found in dozens of Florida communities.
Some call the students “at risk,” but she prefers to call them “full of promise.”
“Now they’re doing better, they’re earning credits, they’re graduating, they’re promoting from middle to high school,” she said. “We know academics and education is the key to their future.”