AS the most senior member of the graduating class, I am honored to deliver tonight’s graduation speech. I was chosen not because I am the oldest person in the class but because I have been in the program for 36 months now. Yes, this has been my long process here in SELF but, to tell you frankly, I would not have it any other way.

Before I came to SELF my life was a total mess. I lost the trust of my loved ones and exhausted every drop of love and support they had to offer. I have been to several rehabs but, strangely, nothing worked. I continued to abuse myself in my drug taking habit thinking it was just a phase I had to go through.I practically lived in the streets but, somehow, I always felt that someone would eventually come and rescue me. I was separated from my wife, put to jail, yet I refused to shape up. Many thought my jail experience would be my rock-bottom, but unfortunately, I just kept on going.

On the afternoon of September 20, 2004 my parents made the bold decision of saving my life. Left without a choice, they committed me to the SELF Program. That day, sad, ashamed, and with much apprehension, I descended the 65 steps of the staircase down to the Program Area, entering an uncharted territory, not knowing what my future would be.

I knew that SELF was a therapeutic community but that did not make any sense to me. What was so therapeutic about cleaning the house, sitting in group activities, getting confronted by total strangers, and having a structured way of life? So, I just went with the flow and thought of doing my time here. In the back of my mind I was definitely going back to my old lifestyle after rehab. And this went on and I never really took advantage of what SELF had to offer.
Every time I encountered difficulty, I would consider giving up and going home. But the staff would counsel me not to give up and I would agree to do the program once more.

Almost two years later, I managed to rise to the undergraduate status but my true colors showed and I was not allowed to graduate last year despite having served the time. It was probably the biggest blow to my ego I ever experienced. Tears filled my eyes as I watched my peers march on stage.

Looking back, that tough call didn’t go to waste. Instead, it opened my eyes. I realized these people and, most of all, my family, meant business when they said this was my last chance to change and time was not of the essence. The message came loud and clear. Only then did I begin to accept the program whole-heartedly. Only then was I was able to understand the therapeutic values of this healing community and what SELF stood for in the lives of people like me.

Since then, I learned to rise each time I fell. I learned to accept challenges and to never quit. I began to see things in a different light and for the first time I realized how beautiful life can be. I appreciate the love of the SELF Family and, most of all, that of my parents. My path to recovery is much clearer now and I am developing a keen sense of purpose in my life. I am in a great place now and from what I’ve learned is that there are no shortcuts to a place worth going to.

Later on tonight, I will once again pace those 65 steps except, this time, I will proudly walk upwards towards a world that awaits me. I will go with a strong determination and become an ambassador of good will to others who, like me, have lost their way. The voyage will not be smooth but, today, I bring with me the knowledge and wisdom to make smarter choices and the humility to make things right when I fall.

As I stand victorious on this stage today, I share it with all those in SELF who suffered with me in my moments of defeat … who cried with me in my times of despair … and who cheered me on each time I triumphed over evil. To you great people, thank you. We are proud to be products of your love and dedication.

To my fellow graduates, who were there for me through good times and bad. I say to you: We have won the battle but not the war. May we continue to see the beauty of this life-giving process and may we never forget where we came from.

To the residents, I say to you: Stick to the fight! When you’re hit the hardest, don’t quit. Remember that if we could do it, so can you.

Most of all, to my beloved parents and family members who have stood by me throughout this ordeal, I shall do you proud.

To everyone, thank you and God bless!

Graduate 2007