Where Are They Now?
Victor Pinzon, Optimist Alumni

Good Evening,

First of all, I want to congratulate the graduates here today. Please, letís give them all the praise they deserve for their accomplishments. I also want to thank Sil Orlando for allowing me to speak on your special day.

It has been 7 years since I graduated from Optimist High School. As I stand here I remember the challenges I faced to get to where you are sitting right now and I still remember my graduation dinner and ceremony.

I was nervous, and shocked, but also happy because I never thought I was going to graduate from high school. At that time I had been going in and out of juvenile hall and getting expelled from different schools. Like most of you guys, I stayed in the dorms, group home, and the Independent Living Program at Optimist. I was going through a lot of personal issues at that time, but I was determined to be strong and while in the residential program, I started to really think about my life and future.

During my time at Optimist I decided to connect with some of the teachers and I started to take school more seriously because of the relationship I had with the teachers. Through those relationships, I began to challenge myself to get the full points every day on my student-sheet in order to get something from the student store because I did not get family visits as often. Believe it or not, that one simple challenge guided me to stay focused to do my school work.

When I graduated from high school, I also graduated from the Optimist program and moved to a transitional housing program in Pasadena in 2010. Graduating from the program helped me realize I was capable of much more than I had thought possible. My experience at Optimist had given me the self-confidence I needed to push myself to be better in the workforce, in school and in life.

I enrolled at Pasadena City College in 2010 and I started taking random classes. I changed my major a couple of times because like most people your age, at first I was not sure what I wanted to study. Even so I kept challenging myself and reaching my goals.

While at PCC, I became a Licensed Phlebotomist and got my Associate of Arts degree. Now, I am currently a dance student at Dance Sport & Fitness in Signal Hill, and I am graduating with my Bachelorís Degree in Psychology in May 2018 from Cal State, Dominguez Hills.

I am standing here today to tell you that anything is possible if you really put your mind, time and effort into it. When you walk out of here today, I hope that all of you graduates make a plan or at least set an initial goal to pursue an education not only because in todayís society without a degree it is difficult to find a good job or have a decent life, but also because you are capable and you deserve the best for yourselves.

If you have not decided what your next step after graduation is, I encourage you to talk to someone that knows about college. If you need more time to decide, find a nice quiet place where you are not going to be disturbed and really think about your life and future, and I hope you strongly consider continuing your education. Iíd also like to mention that you can even go to school for free because there are so many forms of financial help out there that it is amazing. There is financial aid (FAFSA), Cal Grant, Chafee Grant, scholarships, Extended Opportunities Program and Services (EOPS) and believe it or not Optimist can still help you financially through your education...just as they helped me. And, who does not like free money? So there is no excuse! Take advantage of that and use it to propel you into a career.

I will be honest and tell you right now that it is going to be difficult while going to school, and there are going to be times that life will feel like it canít get any worse. There might also be times when you will have a feeling that you should quit school and make money instead but I believe all of you here today are strong enough to deal with anything that will cross your paths. I have had difficult times during my education journey where I thought about working and forgetting about school, but being the only person in my family that has a high school diploma, an associateís degree and about to get a bachelorís degree, it has given me inspiration not only to help myself and family, but others that are struggling with their lives.

I have future plans to mentor young adults that have faced similar problems to you and I. I am not perfect and I am still learning from my mistakes but what has helped me is to always remember where I came from. For this reason I can truly say that I am happy for all of you graduates here today and I believe that all of you are capable to be better and do amazing in life. Just look at yourselves here today, you are celebrating your graduation and there are still more celebrations to come.

Thank you!

                     -Optimist Youth Homes & Family Services 2017: www.oyhfs.org