Prison uniforms were replaced by caps and gowns at SCI Phoenix on June 30 as the graduating class of 2022 received bachelor's degrees earned from Villanova University. Family, friends, staff, and special guests were present to celebrate the eight graduates, six of whom attended the ceremony.
Father Peter Donohue, president of Villanova University, conferred the degrees. He was joined by Program Director Katherine Meloney, SCI Phoenix School Principal Matthew Schwenk, and special guest speaker, Congresswoman Madeleine Dean. Each of the speakers recognized the graduates for their commitment to self-improvement, noting that the men faced significantly more challenges than traditional Villanova students and showed uncommon perseverance to reach their goals. Congresswoman Dean, who represents Pennsylvania's 4th District, made a point to look each graduate in the eye, address them by name, and tell them, "I am so proud of you."
One graduate, speaking on behalf of the class, began his educational journey in the Villanova program 13 years ago. After recognizing his Villanova instructors and the staff at SCI Phoenix for the opportunity to become a better version of himself, he thanked his mother for her unwavering support. His voice cracked with emotion when he told her how it made him feel to give her something to be proud of, and — perhaps for the first time — to be proud of himself.
Despite the institutional setting and there being fewer than 10 graduates, Villanova staff and faculty in attendance made it a point to treat the ceremony like any other university graduation, as the coursework completed by these students was no different than the work done by traditional students. The partnership between SCI Phoenix (and previously SCI Graterford) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and it boasts approximately 90 graduates. Thirty students are currently enrolled in the program and working toward their degrees.