Despite Uncertainty, Mercy Home’s Graduates Look to Future with Determination
Right now we’re stepping into a future that feels uncertain. But one thing is certain: Mercy Home’s love and support for each and every one of us. They showed us we are resilient. They taught us to take charge of our own destiny.
– Deandre, Mercy Home graduate keynote speaker
The 18th annual Graduates’ Luncheon looked a little different this year, but the purpose of the event remained the same: to honor and support Mercy Home’s 2020 graduates.
Led by our Leader Council, this special event celebrates this important milestone, while raising the resources we need to provide our young men and women with a good education and life-changing opportunities. For the first time, this year’s luncheon was held entirely online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Mercy Home’s first-ever virtual event was a huge success, raising almost $110,000, plus a $50,000 match from a generous anonymous donor.
Before the luncheon, Rachel Twarog, the director of special events, said that she felt this was an event that could easily become virtual.
“The Graduates’ Luncheon really lends itself well to become a virtual event because a lot of it is program-based,” she explained. “It’s very similar to a commencement because there’s a lot of speakers … and we felt that’s something that we can easily capture in a digital format.”
Mercy Home Board of Regents member Jim Williams emceed once again, and his breadth of experience as a television news anchor made his transition this year to hosting via a camera a seamless one. Williams began by acknowledging our challenging times while assuring viewers that this year’s event was a chance to be inspired and to glimpse hope for the future.
Even our youth entered the event in virtual fashion through a music video featuring several graduates “passing” a mortar board to one another. Fr. Scott Donahue addressed viewers and graduates by recalling advice he was given by another priest when he was ordained. The priest told him to always treat others with dignity and respect, say yes to others whenever possible, keep a sense of humor, and remember the purpose of life is not about you, but the true meaning of life is found in giving to others as God would have us do.
“If we keep that simple advice at hand and remember that simple advice, and more importantly, live by it, I promise our graduates [that] no matter what you do in life, your life will be filled with meaning,” he said. “Your life will bring hope to others. In following that simple advice, the journey of your own life will lead you to a life fulfilled with much happiness.”
The luncheon’s keynote speaker was Hon. Timothy C. Evans, the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County who had advice of his own for our graduates.
“You’ve worked hard, achieved much, and have clearly earned the right to graduate today,” he said. “You’ve also earned the right to pause long enough and fully look back on your achievements. This graduation platform is a great place to rest on and not only look back at what you achieved in the past, but also look forward to your future.
“Your next step, as you prepare to move past this oasis, is to continue your education, hone your problem solving skills, fully develop your empathy to others less fortunate than you, and to develop your other skills, such as courage, perseverance, persistence, and resilience, that will be even more important to you in the future.”
Your next step, as you prepare to move past this oasis, is to continue your education, hone your problem solving skills, fully develop your empathy to others less fortunate than you, and to develop your other skills, such as courage, perseverance, persistence, and resilience, that will be even more important to you in the future.
– Hon. Timothy C. Evans, the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County
Our graduate speaker, Deandre, exemplified all of the qualities Judge Evans enumerated as being so important for each of us to possess and develop. Deandre shared some of the struggles he faced growing up, such as not having enough food to eat, not having a bed at home, and not doing well in school, along with his brushes with gun violence and gang members. He also talked about some of the difficult aspects of his relationships with his parents, particularly his father.
After coming to Mercy Home, Deandre’s whole life changed.
“When I moved in to Mercy Home, I felt like I was the missing piece that finally had a place to fit in,” he said. “I felt connected, like I belonged.”
Deandre raised his grades at Mercy Home and built wonderful relationships with Mercy Home’s coworkers and the other youth. He also took advantage of family therapy, and his relationship with his dad improved.
“[My dad and I have] had our ups and downs, but he’s always been by my side. I’m so grateful for him because I know a lot of guys whose dads aren’t around. My dad chose to be in my life and he’s my hero. He literally saved my life.”
As Deandre reflected on all the ways Mercy Home has helped him, he was filled with encouragement for his fellow graduates.
“Thanks to Mercy Home, I’m no longer a follower,” he said. “I am a leader! We are all leaders. Now let’s go change the world!”‘
WGN-TV anchor Micah Materre seized on Deandre’s call to action to encourage supporters to do their part by donating to the Home during the event-ending pledge drive. From her living room, Materre brought passion and electricity to the task of inspiring and motivating those at home to click and contribute to give kids like Deandre the tools they need to realize their potential.
The program also featured a video message to the graduates from presenting sponsor AT&T, delivered by Eileen Mitchell, president of AT&T Illinois and Mercy Home Board of Regents member. Prior to joining the board Mitchell chaired the Leader Council, a group whose dedication to providing our young people with educational opportunities has been the driver behind this inspirational celebration for 18 years.
We are truly so profoundly grateful to all of the members of our Leader Council, particularly co-chairs Marcy Twardak and Emily Cole, for their hard work on behalf of our young people and for making the Graduates’ Luncheon such as success for our young people.
We also thank our keynote speaker Hon. Timothy C. Evans, our sponsors, board members, and youth presenters Destiny and Jamiyah, and so many coworkers throughout all of our programs for making the event possible. Thanks to our good friends Jim Williams and Micah Materre for lending their immense talents to the proceedings. And thanks to our good friend Paul Klinkeand his crew at Almost Gold for donating their skilled services to create some of the video elements, including the special virtual entrance by our 2020 graduates.
Whether you missed the event on Tuesday or just want to watch it again, you can view the full recording online. We invite you to share this program with your friends and family so that more people who know about the amazing work that you do in helping our kids build bright futures.