When Chantilly resident St. Clair Scott first became a student at the Kilmer Center eight years ago, his family had difficulty enticing him to go to school. Because transportation for them was a problem, Kilmer Center principal Michael Marsallo would pick him up until they made other arrangements.
That kind of encouragement from the school helped Scott, 22, achieve another goal: receiving a diploma.
"They really helped him to be himself," said Scott's mother, Michelle.
Although the Kilmer Center graduation ceremony held last Thursday evening numbered only three graduates, the mood was no less heartfelt than those of other area ceremonies with hundreds of graduates. The students at the Kilmer Center, all of whom have either multiple disabilities, autism or mental retardation, have overcome their difficulties to become better communicators and contributors to society.
Following graduation, the graduates will take part in the Fairfax County Adult Services program in Chantilly, which allows them to work in jobs throughout the county.
"We kept our graduates busy, and we feel that they're ready," Marsallo said.
Because the Kilmer Center, which is located behind Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, works so closely with families when students are in the program, the graduation ceremony demonstrated that familial relationship. Marsallo's daughter, Leah, played Pomp and Circumstance on the piano, while Marsallo read poems he had written about each of the graduates. Graduate and Oak Hill resident Douglas Church III gave the thumbs up several times to his parents sitting in the second row.
In addition to wishing the graduates and their families success for the future, graduation speaker Kathy May, lead advocate for the Association for Retarded Citizens, also asked them to continue to work together so that disabled and retarded citizens can become functioning members of society.
"It is hard work, but our graduates have shown us what hard work is all about," May said.
Following the speech, graduates received their diplomas, as well as framed portraits from the Kilmer Center.
After the ceremony, families and friends chatted over cake and sandwiches, while the graduates had pictures taken with their guests.
"Our family is just thrilled, proud, and a little more confident of the future because of Kilmer," said Douglas Church, Jr., father of Douglas Church III.
Centreville resident Cathy Shifflett, mother of graduate and 22-year-old Kimberly Shifflett, agreed. Kimberly Shifflett had been a student at the Kilmer Center for four years, three years after she had an anaphylactic reaction to shrimp which eventually caused her to become semi-comatose.
"[I'm] happy and sad, because this is such a wonderful facility," Cathy Shifflett said.
The Kilmer Center currently serves 74 students, ranging from 5 to 22 years of age. Students come from all over the northern portion of Fairfax County, including, Vienna, Oakton, McLean, Great Falls, Chantilly and Centreville. The center teaches students a life skills curriculum, by equipping them with communication, vocational and personal skills.