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Blake McClellan was named Michigan Virtual Charter Academy‘s Class of 2018 valedictorian, but the road to graduation wasn’t an easy one. As he shared in his personal and passionate commencement address on June 15, 2018, Blake and his family have come through homelessness in the past year. Thanks to a dedicated teacher and a lot of hard work, Blake made it to the top of the class and is looking forward to college. Check out this excerpt of the lessons and words of encouragement Blake shared with his classmates. 

Well everyone, we finally made it. I know for many of us, myself included, it seemed like it couldn’t come soon enough. I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few individuals, whose support was crucial in getting me to this point. First, I would like to thank my parents Chris and Tomica, as they were always cheering me on and guided me through the toughest of times. Next, I would like to personally thank Ms. Marzolo, the teacher that guided me through this year, and gave me the support and strength I needed to make sure I walked across this stage today. She was my guardian angel through the entire year. Without her support and constant calling and checking in on me I never could’ve made it. She was the biggest help outside my parents and I couldn’t have made it without her.

Most Valedictorian speeches touch on themes along the lines of: you can do anything you set your mind to, or something like, only you can dictate your future. These are almost always accompanied by a historical event or two with a famous and often overused quote included to really dress it up. These might be fine for most people, but today, I want to leave you with something more. The message I want to share is one of perseverance, and how everyone has the ability to persevere, but it’s only those that utilize that ability they have in themselves that succeed.

Most of you probably don’t know this about me, but for the better half of this school year, I was living in a homeless shelter with my family. Those who saw me in class wouldn’t have noticed anything was wrong, but there was definitely something troubling me. My dad lost his job in August and we were evicted from our home in September. For the entire month of October we were going from my grandma’s house in Indiana to a dingy motel back here in Michigan. We had no choice but to just take each day a day at a time. With my senior year just beginning, being homeless made for a difficult start to my school year.

A typical day for me was to first go to a community meal and then go straight to the library so my siblings and I could log into school. The library didn’t allow talking even for Class Connects, so all I could do was work quietly and listen as my teachers taught our lessons.

Being homeless was proving to be extremely difficult in trying to keep up with school and stay motivated. I found myself in a dark place, lost, and unsure of what the future held for me. I was enrolled in two AP courses, and even my regular courses were super difficult.

Then, at the end of October, my dad finally found a job, in another part of the state. We had to look for a homeless shelter that would take us in and allow us to be there while my dad worked. I was now in an unfamiliar part of the state, and no family to help us, while still being homeless and trying to keep up with school. It was too much. My mom and my two sisters and I had to walk a mile to a library every day, and we only had a couple of hours before we had to be back at the shelter for lunch. After lunch, we walked back to the library to work on school until it was time to walk back to the shelter again in time for dinner. The shelter meals were our only opportunities to eat.

The limited amount of time I had with internet and the routine we found ourselves forced to endure left me depressed and overwhelmed. For a period of about a month, I just couldn’t bring myself to deal with the challenges life had thrown at me and focus on school. Life at the shelter had left us feeling defeated and hopeless.

A little bit into our second month in the shelter, right around the start of December, my AP Government teacher Ms. Marzolo called me and gave me an ultimatum: I either got serious about school or I wouldn’t succeed. I finally heard the warning bells – that if I didn’t pull it together, I would fail. Everything that I went through that last few months flashed through my head, and I knew without a doubt, I had to succeed. I knew if I could get through this, pass my classes, and make it to graduation, that I could do anything! And you know what? I did it. And I didn’t just pass my classes. I made it to graduation, and landed on this stage, as the Class of 2018’s valedictorian, to share this message with my fellow classmates: No matter what life throws at you, or how daunting a situation looks, every one of us has the potential to persevere and succeed.

Today, as I look out at all of you, I know that anything is possible! I also know this for each and every one of you here today! The only person or obstacle standing in the way of your success is you. If you dream you can do it, you can! Will you persevere through the challenges and obstacles that life will inevitably throw at you? Only you can answer that question, but I think you can, and I encourage all of you, when life gets too hard, to dig deep, and find that bit of strength that we all have deep down inside us, and use that to reach your goals!

Thank you all, and I pray all of you are able to achieve your dreams, whatever those dreams may be. Congratulations Class of 2018 – today we did it!

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