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Families celebrate graduates at MacLaren

MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility sees 13 graduate from high school, five from associate programs and one with a bachelor's degree


by: PHIL HAWKINS - Sang Dao, of MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, holds aloft his bachelor's degree in criminology from Portland State University as he speaks to his fellow graduates at Wednesday's graduation ceremony. Tears flowed and emotions ran high at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn, as friends and family gathered to honor the graduating class of 2014 at William P. Lord High School.

Thirteen young men donned their caps and gowns Wednesday to celebrate earning their high school diplomas, and four more earned college degrees from Lane Community College and Portland State University.

The two-hour ceremony was attended by several community leaders from the state of Oregon — including first lady Cylvia Hayes and Judge James C. Egan of the Oregon Court of Appeals — who spoke in admiration of the students who worked to pursue education as part of their rehabilitation at MacLaren.

“Do not let this place define you,” said Egan, who spoke not just on his authority as a judge, but also as a parent whose son was incarcerated at MacLaren.

“It is a great accomplishment. Own that accomplishment.”

Of the nearly 20 graduates Wednesday, 25-year-old Sang Dao received the highest honors after graduating magna cum laude from Portland State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminology.

Dao entered MacLaren eight years ago on a 12-year sentence and spoke to his peers about his transition to self-betterment through his commitment to education.

“When I arrived here, all I knew was that I was a teenager with a lengthy prison sentence,” he said.

Dao dedicated himself to rehabilitation by first attaining his high school diploma, followed by an associate’s from Lane Community College in 2012 that led to his degree from Portland State last week.

“Everything you need to succeed lies within you,” Dao said, speaking to his fellow graduates to open the ceremony. “Education is going to be the opportunity to change my life for the better.”

Dao studied criminal justice at Portland State and wants to work in public administration after he has served his sentence.

Dao said he has always been interested in the policy side of criminal justice, and his position in MacLaren and the next four years left on his sentence to be served at a state correctional facility gives him an understanding of Oregon’s criminal justice system from both sides of the fence.

“Getting a four-year degree is remarkable,” said C.J. Drake, deputy communications manager at MacLaren. “It’s not very often you see someone here with this kind of accomplishment.”

Dao hopes to apply to graduate school and eventually pursue a law school degree.

Though he is not sure what educational opportunities exist in the Oregon penal system after he leaves MacLaren, he is determined to continue his education.

“Independent education is the best education,” he said.

by: PHIL HAWKINS - Oregon First Lady Cylvia Hayes emphasized the opportunities that are created from a high school diploma. After Dao spoke, he was followed by MacLaren’s guest speakers, including First Lady Cylvia Hayes, who talked about how she was living on her own at 16 and on a similar path as the William P. Lord graduates before dedicating herself to education.

“The single most important renewable resource is human ingenuity,” she said. “Education is something no one can take from you.”

Joey Jenkins, a leadership mentor for high school and college students, challenged the graduates to focus on a clear goal and pursue it now that they have obtained their degrees.

“Clarity is power,” he said. “Raise your standards. Think about your lives with a new level of responsibility.”

Following the ceremony, the graduates celebrated with the friends and family in the crowd, with the opening words of new William P. Lord Principal Michael Conn setting the tone for the jubilant mood of everyone in attendance.

“You should be proud,” he said. “As we are proud of you.”by: PHIL HAWKINS - New William P. Lord Principal Michael Conn shakes hands with a member of the high school's 2014 graduating class



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