Graduation is a major accomplishment. It is a mark of excelling and completing a milestone in one’s life. For most students, it is marked with attending their graduation ceremony and celebrating with family and friends.

For youth in foster care, graduation should be an even bigger celebration of accomplishment. Many children and teens in foster care have been moved between several foster homes which may also mean attending several schools. That makes the goal of graduation even harder. Unfortunately, many do not get a party and celebration to congratulate them on their hard work.

But in Waterloo, Iowa, Ellen Vanderloo is changing that. This year, they are organizing a graduation open house for ten local students in foster care who are receiving their high school diplomas. These ten students all live in the Waterloo area and are from four different schools.

This is the tenth annual open house and will be at the Hawkeye Community College Student Center on May 29 from 4:30-6:00 PM. Each of the students will have a table where family, friends, and people from the community can come tell them hello, offer congratulations, and deliver gifts or donations.

This tradition started when the local school committee learned that one foster youth celebrated his graduation by bringing a cake to share with his caseworkers. When they heard that story, they knew these graduates deserved more and started an annual graduation party. Ellen stated, “kids walk in and say, ‘oh my gosh, I never thought I’d have a party like this.’ It’s simple, but it’s festive.”

Cayontae was one of the graduates that participated in last year’s graduation party. He appreciated the many people that came to celebrate with him and the gifts he received from members of the community and the organizers of the event.

Foster youth are typically in care for parental and home environment situations, not something they did. They deserve to be awarded and celebrated for their great accomplishment.