The bars of ignorance that dissolve with education are much stronger than those that hold prisoners captive, graduates of Utah State Prison's high school program were told Tuesday night.
"The true key of freedom is education. The bars of ignorance are far stronger than those that hold you here," James R. Moss, state superintendent of public instruction, said during brief remarks.In a room in the Youth Correctional Facility, 42 graduates clad in turquoise and lavender robes received diplomas culminating their work at the prison's South Park Academy. The program, staffed by Jordan School District administrators and teachers, graduated inmates ranging from a 19-year-old Casey Vigil to a 58-year-old father of eight, Daniel Lucero. Lucero was honored by his teachers as the outstanding student of this year's class.
Of the 420,000 graduates in the state this year, Moss said, officials are most proud of the inmates, who have risen above their circumstances. "Stay on the road of learning," he admonished the graduates.
Student Seanna Long, wearing the lavender robe hiding standard jail attire of a blue cotton shirt, jeans and sneakers, said during a speech, "For us, graduation is not so much a completion, but breaking a cycle of self-defeat."
She said that education is important especially in the lives of women who frequently return to prison. She urged state officials to expand job training programs at the prison for women to include more laundry, cafeteria and cleaning jobs.
Keynote speaker Robert L. Rice told the graduates to set proper priorities and gain self-confidence.
"Your priorities will lead you down the wrong road if success is measured in dollars alone," Rice said.
He urged the prison's 31st graduating class to have consistency in life - have patience, be loyal, committed and productive.
"Everything just takes time, a step at a time," said Rice, a philanthropist and founder of Fitness Health Spas. "Remember, little decisions are far more important that big ones."
George F. Copeland, Jordan School District administrator, told the story of Florence Chadwick, an English swimmer, who attempted to swim from Catalina Island to the Southern California coast. She quit a half mile from shore after fog shrouded her goal.
"You have looked up through the fog and seen goals," said Copeland.
Prison wardens Jeff R. Galli and Gerald L. Cook commended the graduates for their accomplishments.
Cook said the graduates have taken a measured step by becoming a master of their souls. They turned an adversity into accomplishment. Many may not have graduated had they not been in prison, he said.
Galli said, "Few people can comprehend the accomplishment you have made."