On the hottest Tuesday, in the hottest week in Tacoma history 26 students took a ten-foot walk that will forever change their lives. They finished High School. Some with a G.E.D. some with a diploma, but all were celebrated and applauded for their perseverance. These students have been through trauma and circumstances many of us cannot even imagine. They overcame so many obstacles to reach this milestone that even a global pandemic could not stop them.
The stories of their futures are as varied as the stories that brought them to this re-engagement school. Many are going straight into the workforce, some are parenting full-time, a few are taking apprenticeships, and a large number are going on to higher education in a variety of disciplines. It is clear from the joy and pride in this room that these students have earned more than a high school education at Willie Stewart Academy. They have found acceptance and, maybe, even a family.
What is Willie Stewart Academy? It is a re-engagement school through Tacoma Public Schools where students ages 12-17 can complete their high school education. Willie Stewart Academy is committed to ensuring that all students reach their individual academic goals by providing the academic, social, and emotional supports that are needed.
This Tuesday, Mr. Willie Stewart himself was in attendance. He shared his 8 pearls of wisdom with the graduates, and the audience. Mr. Stewart has been active in the Tacoma community for over 60 years. Mr. Stewart began teaching in Tacoma in 1960 and was prom
oted to principal in 1970. As the first black principal in the Tacoma School District he was pivotal to the voluntary desegregation of Tacoma Schools. From his years as a school principal, superintendent, and community volunteer he is an example of excellence for all. Mr. Stewart left the crowd with a few words of wisdom, a couple good chuckles and knowledge that the graduates of the day have earned the legacy of his illustrious name.
Another local celebrity who spoke was Willie Stewart Academy’s own principal, Gregory Eisnaugle. Mr. Eisnaugle was clearly recalling his days in a rock band as he engaged the audience and encouraged the crowd to cheer for every graduate. This was Mr. Eisnaugle’s own personal farewell tour, as this was his last graduation before retirement. I can’t imagine a better note to exit on.
As for me, why was Washington Masonic Charities invited? This past year our staff has had the opportunity to become a sponsor for WSA in many ways. We have facilitated the purchase of practice tests to ensure competency for the G.E.D. test. Students are given the practice test several times to guarantee success under pressure. Washington Masonic Charities have also provided the funding for the G.E.D. tests themselves. Surprisingly, these tests are excluded from many kinds of funding and the unaccompanied homeless youth we support do not have the $200.00 on average it costs to take the G.E.D. By providing this support we have helped many students complete their education. It is these kinds of concrete outcomes that prove Washington Masonic Charities are out in the community letting everyone know that #MasonsCare.
All photos from Tacoma Public Schools Facebook page.