"There's a difference between failing and being a failure," said Fariborz Pakseresht, the director of Oregon Youth Authority, at the June 30 graduation ceremony for the incarcerated students at MacLaren and Hillcrest youth correctional facilities.
Pakseresht said that failure is a permanent state — a pessimistic view of the world that causes people to give up. Failing, meanwhile, is a temporary state — a bump in the road that's challenging but can lead to positive outcomes, Pakseresht said.
Pakseresht said the students earning degrees and certifications may have failed in the past, but they aren't failures.
The ceremony honored the 21 youths earning high school diplomas, six youths earning GEDs, one youth earning a barbering license and one youth earning a limited building maintenance electrician license. At the ceremony, many of the youths spoke about past mistakes that brought them into the youth correctional system, but highlighted that those mistakes have allowed them to attain their current success.
"It's a blessing," said Martean, 19, who earned his high school degree this year. (OYA has requested that the Independent not print the last names of the youths).
Martean said that before he came to MacLaren, he'd dropped out of high school. He said peer pressure, and a struggle with maintaining a steady work ethic, prevented him from staying in school.
Now, with high school degree in hand, he plans to become a journeyman electrician. He said he'll be out of MacLaren by the time he completes the five-year certification process.
Frankie, 19, another youth who earned his high school degree from MacLaren's William P. Lord High School, also said he wasn't focused on school when he became incarcerated. He said that while he's not necessarily grateful for his incarceration, he's experienced a major transformation while at MacLaren.
"It helped me get my life back together," he said. "I'm only the second one in my family to graduate high school."
Frankie said his values and goals have changed while at MacLaren. "Back then, my goal was to make a lot of money, no matter what," he said. Now, he has plans to earn a degree in sociology, with the ultimate goal of helping kids who were in similar situations as he was.
"I can be a lot more than I used to be," Frankie said.
Pakseresht said that when it comes to the students going through OYA's education system, transformation is a common theme.
"It's amazing to see what happens to them," he said in an interview. "Many of the youth would have never imagined getting a high school diploma."
As the youths accepted their diplomas and certificates, some took an opportunity to speak to the crowd, many with encouraging words for their classmates.
"All of you have made mistakes," said Dakota, one of the youths accepting his high school degree. "I don't see any mistakes. I just see you. Don't let those mistakes hold you back in life."