All 10 of the 2023 graduates of the Visions Unlimited program pose with principal Dorene Forster, left; Superintendent Christopher Delgado, center; and teacher Colleen Hrischuk, right, following graduation.

All 10 of the 2023 graduates of the Visions Unlimited program pose with principal Dorene Forster, left; Superintendent Christopher Delgado, center; and teacher Colleen Hrischuk, right, following graduation.

Photo by Charity Meier

Graduation for students with special needs fulfills vision of parents, staff

By: Charity Meier | Farmington Press | Published July 21, 2023


FARMINGTON — Ten graduates of the Farmington Public Schools Visions program walked across the stage at the Hawk Center June 13 — a vision for the parents and teachers for these special needs students that was 26 years in the making.

“It is always a celebration at graduation, and it’s always a little bit of a tearjerker, too, as we wish part of our family the best as they move on,” said  Dorene Forester, the principal of the FPS Visions Unlimited program.

The ceremony began with the traditional march into the auditorium to Pomp and Circumstance, which was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, led by graduate Doug Wetherington. Forester then introduced the graduates individually, noting some fun, sometimes funny characteristics that make them so special.

Superintendent Christopher Delgado gave the commencement address. In his speech, Delgado dove into the meaning behind the program title, “Visions Unlimited.” He explained that a vision can be many things — something you dream about, a wish you hope will come true, or a goal you set for yourself. According to Delgado, the most important thing about a vision is that you can see it. He explained that if something is unlimited, it means that you can’t be stopped, ever.

“When you know in your heart that all the work you’ve done throughout preschool, elementary, middle, high school and at Visions was worth it, because now it’s paying off. That’s when you see your vision come true,” said Delgado.

“I believe that each one of you sitting in the front row today are definitely a hero,” keynote speaker Todd Lippa, the director of CARES in Farmington Hills, told the graduates as the song “Hero” played in the background. “A person who is admired, brave, kind, compassionate, and best of all a person who has given their best in everything they have ever been challenged to do. Each and every one of these very, very special, gifted, talented students deserve to be here today. … I want each and every one of you to look inside and know that you are that hero. Your heart shows it the most.”

Lippa, who helped build “one of the largest Special Olympics programs in the entire country” instructed the students to take every step along the way  and climb every mountain that is put in front of them. He said that at the top of the mountain is the best feeling you can ever have. Lippa told the students that he has never known a hero that was able to accomplish their goals without a support system.  He told them that they have had that from their parents, teachers, friends, neighbors and other community members.

“So, if you just take a little time and cast your fears aside, your heroes will come alive,” said Lippa. “It doesn’t matter what challenges they may have today. We never know what tomorrow’s challenge will be. But if we’re together, we’ll make it through it.”

He went on to say that the goal is to show people  not to be afraid of those who have limited capabilities, and to have people welcome them into the workforce. According to Lippa, the real heroes are those who say yes to people with special needs, offer them employment and do it with pride.

Michele Kramp, who serenaded her classmates and the audience with her rendition of Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb,” is graduating with a job offer from Peterlands Restaurant.

After working at the restaurant for job skills training in varying positions, such as hosting and bussing, Kramp approached the owner and asked if she could possibly have a fulltime job after graduation.

“It’s amazing,” Kramp said of the job opportunity.

“They give her an opportunity to be in the community,” said Kramp’s proud mother, Theresa.

“You might say wow to all those college athletes and those great high school athletes, but really what you would have to say wow to is to those that some can’t think they can, and they triumph over it and do it well. To those of you who have done it well, congratulations,” said Lippa. “Remember that you are blessed to be able to do what you do. You have been put on this earth to do exactly what you are meant to do. You can look inside yourself and you become stronger and you become wiser, but take the challenge to be always the best that you can be.”

Retiring teacher Colleen Hrischuk recalled that she had come in with some of these kids and said graduation is a tear jerker for her every year as well, as she has gotten to know the students so well, and had much more time with them than a teacher would in a traditional classroom — 26 years compared to just 13.

“I came in with some of these kids. My first year was Philip’s first year, and now he’s going out and I’m going out,” she said. “We’re going out together.”

Theresa Kramp said she really enjoyed the graduation speeches.

“I think this speech was out of this world, because it is unlimited — for all of us,”  said Theresa Kramp, who advocates for the program and ability awareness.