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On January 27, Tahreem Shoukat and Maria Torres reached their last milestone as iHOPE students—graduation. The two young women, who joined iHOPE in September 2018 and January 2017, respectively, have both flourished during their time at the school. And according to Senior Special Education Teacher Lindsey Garland, both graduates, who were slated to graduate in July 2020, enjoyed an extra six months at the school.

“I’ve been preparing for their graduation for almost a year, but it was still hard to see them move on,” said Garland. “But I was really proud. They’ve been working so hard, and the time I’d see them in my sessions they’d always be smiling.” 

Since iHOPE itself is relatively young and it serves students up to 21 years old, Shoukat and Torres are only the second and third students to graduate. The school has been working on transition plans with the students’ families for more than a year. Shoukat will be opting for self-direction and will look into community projects while Torres plans on entering a day hab once a spot becomes available.  

Both former students worked hard on their communication skills while at iHOPE—skills that will certainly position them well for their future endeavors.  

“Tahreem didn’t know a lot of signs when she started at iHOPE and she didn’t have a consistent way to communicate, which made it really hard for her...Now she spontaneously uses sign language and she can express her wants and needs,” Garland said. “And Maria knows so much. She had a lot of skills already so my goal was to push her and teach her some more complex skills that would help prepare her. She’s so social, she’s really motivated by communicating with other people.” 

“It’s really special to feel these people you’ve spent so much time with and have worked with for so long are moving on to new horizons. It’s hard to say goodbye, but you have to say goodbye.”