High school graduate, ceremony at Eastern State Hospital provide needed hope in face of pandemic

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Ryley receives his diploma

Amidst a pandemic, a little miracle occurred in the Habilitative Mental Health ward at the Department of Social and Health Services’ Eastern State Hospital. Ryley, a patient on the HMH ward (a ward specifically for persons with an intellectual disability and a co-existing mental health diagnosis) graduated from high school.

For special education students like Ryley, graduation normally occurs around the age of 21. But Ryley put in the extra effort and hard work and graduated one month after turning 19. That is a significant achievement.

Although Ryley did all of the things needed to achieve his diploma, he was not alone in achieving this milestone. Jill Jordan, Education Program Manager worked very closely with him and other Eastern State Hospital employees from the HMH ward, and from the Medical Lake School District all worked to together ensure Ryley had the tools he needed to succeed.

Ryley was very excited after completing all the educational requirements and beamed with pride while telling everyone about this wonderful achievement.

For many in the class of 2020, graduation ceremonies were cancelled due to COVID-19. The team at Eastern‘s HMH Ward decided they were going to give Ryley the graduation he deserved so this achievement could be celebrated in the manner it should be, even with social distancing requirements in place. The team discussed and assigned duties to put on a wonderful event and even the tiniest details were attended to: graduation décor, printed napkins and plates, speeches, a podium to speak from, etc. Staff brought in caps and gowns to make the ceremony more official, and Dr. Doty on the HMH ward went to the clothing room to pick out an outfit for Ryley to wear at the graduation.

An employee who works in food services, and who had attended pastry chef school, made a beautifully decorated cake. Staff from the IT department connected everything necessary to link the family in so they could watch the ceremony on their computer and visit via video afterwards. One of the administrative assistants made invitations that would rival any you could order from a website. The hospital’s HMH director took graduation pictures (with consent, of course). The school district staff sent a diploma and a tassel for Ryley to wear with his cap and gown and some of the hospitals executive staff came to participate. Many looked on during the ceremony and all provided rounds of clapping, hoorays and whistles, all while following protocols set forth because of the pandemic.

This event was not only a significant achievement for this young man but it was an example of creativity and perseverance from the staff to figure out how to make an event occur that would be memorable but also stay within the parameters of the pandemic guidelines. It was an example of how divergently different agencies could work to achieve a common goal. It was an example of multiple departments within the hospital coming together to go above and beyond the norms of their day.

“I believe that the greatest piece of this event is that it is an example of hope and resiliency in the face of what was happening around us,” said Judy Hutchinson, GPU/HMH Administrative Director at Eastern. “The fact that there were so many people touched by this event — both inside and outside of the hospital — and the ability for everyone to work together to make this happen during the pandemic was extraordinary.”

Congratulations to Ryley and a big thank you to Eastern State Hospital staff who truly take the DSHS mission of transforming lives to heart.

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