Though probation offices tend to be pretty dreary as the places where former inmates account for their post-prison activities, one South Bronx probation office was a site of celebration on Friday, as 29 graduates were awarded their GEDs. NY1's education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
There were a lot of tears of joy in a South Bronx probation office on Friday, as the agency held its first graduation ceremony ever and honored 29 young New Yorkers who had earned their GEDs.
"You are a high school graduate, plain and simple," said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to the graduates.
"This year were the first times we started opening up GED programs right in our offices, so that people could come, they could see their probation officer, they can get a lot of services and supports, one of which is education," said Probation Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi.
"The change has been almost a 360, from not punitive to really looking at the positive things, not just the one thing that got them here, and it seems to be working phenomenal," said Marlita Dalton, a supervising probation officer.
The graduates said they were touched and inspired by the dignitaries who showed up.
"I've shaken all kind of cons' hands, I've shaken all kinds of fools' hands, but I'm very proud to say, I'm one of the first people in my family who shook a commissioner's hand," said one graduate.
In addition, the graduates said they were impressed with the effort put into their ceremony.
"'Cause they did so much with this office,' said graduate Kenya Marshall. "I'm usually here to see my probation officer, they turned it, decorated it, turned it all upside down. I was like, 'Wow!'"
This graduation is not just the result of changes within the agency, but also a wider effort to connect young people within the justice system to resources that might help them stay out of it.
Last month, the school on Rikers Island celebrated its largest graduation ever.
Unlike the graduates on Rikers, however, the graduates at this South Bronx probation office were able and encouraged to interact with their families.
"You didn't do it by yourself, but you did it with all the people," Walcott said. "Take a look around. Take a look back."
Near the end of the ceremony, the graduates were asked to deliver a rose to someone who had helped them reach this milestone.
Many graduates honored their mothers. Some honored their children. Others chose to thank someone else, who they say is now like a family member.
"I gave it to my probation officer. I gave it to her," said graduate Tarell Henry. "I ran, I gave her a hug, I gave her a kiss, and I gave her the rose."