PHOTOS: Haitian community celebrates high school graduates

Collier County graduates gather before a ceremony honoring local Haitian graduates at the First Haitian Baptist Mission of Naples on Friday, June 11, 2010, in Naples.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

Collier County graduates gather before a ceremony honoring local Haitian graduates at the First Haitian Baptist Mission of Naples on Friday, June 11, 2010, in Naples.

— One graduation ceremony wouldn’t suffice for the local Haitian community.

That’s why the Naples Haitian Pastors’ Association and members of the First Haitian Baptist Mission of Naples organized an entire ceremony to show about 50 recent Haitian graduates just how proud they are of their academic accomplishment.

“I’m so very proud right now because they do so much for us, and I’m just really thankful” said Kendy Branchedor, a recent 18-year-old Lely High School graduate who plans on attending a technical college to learn how to become a mechanic.

During the Friday night ceremony — which took place in the First Haitian Baptist Mission located at 14600 U.S. 41 East — prayers were said, words of encouragement and support were shared and loads of advice was given to the new graduates.

However the ceremony’s purpose was more than just to congratulate the new graduates.

“The purpose of it is to encourage the youth to work hard in school,” said Jacques Sinjuste, a church member who helped organize the ceremony. “Many of our youth are freshmen [in college,] and they come back here again and they drop out. So we want to encourage them to stay and graduate from college.”

Sinjuste said that Haitian high school graduates frequently work so hard to get into college, take a year of college and then drop out. “It’s like in my country they say you clean you head and then you put it on the floor, so you’re wasting time. We encourage them to keep up with college until they’re done.”

He wants to remind them that the church is there to support them and to provide them with the help they need to accomplish their academic goals.

All the cap and gown clad graduates from several different Collier County High Schools filled seven pews in the center of the church, and their family and friends filled the surrounding pews.

When the new graduates were asked how many of them are going to college, almost all of them raised their hands.

A recent graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University, Lucie Jean, imparted her wisdom and advice on the recent high school graduates during a speech.

“If you fail to plan, then plan to fail,” Jean said. “Our Haitian parents came from Haiti, and they’ve gone through a lot of things and trials to get us here. So if you’re going to go to college, just don’t play around with that … work hard and study.”

In addition, Jean stressed the importance of finding a good church and setting standards for yourself. “I pray once again that you guys will set high goals for yourselves,” she said.

As traditional graduation music played over the speakers, local Haitian church leaders handed out “Haitian certificates of graduation” to each new graduate, who walked up on the church’s stage when his or her name was announced. The certificates read: ‘Certificate of Appreciation’: In grateful recognition of your hard work and dedication in High School from 2005 – [2010.]

“When I graduated, the feeling was so beautiful that I wanted to do it over again, so they kind of gave me a second chance to walk across the stage,” said Oline Georges, an 18-year-old Golden Gate High School graduate who plans on studying musical production after high school.

She said the most useful piece of advice that she heard during the ceremony was not to run away from home just for the sake of getting away.

“Unless you have a scholarship or some type of money that you’ve been helped with, it’s best that you stay down here and stay near your parents and get help instead of just going away and putting the idea in your head that you want to get away from your parents,” Georges said.

Prizes, such as a new laptop computer, were given out after the ceremony. Next year the church officials hope to raise enough money to give out three or four scholarships to the new graduates.

“The most important piece of advice I heard was not to forget where we come from,” said Geovany Napoleon, a 17-year-old Lely High School graduate.

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