This last summer our senior ArtLab interns graduated from high school and moved on to college this fall. Let’s look at three of these graduates; their challenges, their voices, and their success:
Leilani Abeyta – Leilani graduated from ArtLab as one of our first youth representatives on PlatteForum’s board of directors. She was the first generation of her family to graduate high school and to attend college. She is now at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Class of 2022, as a full-ride scholarship recipient.
For Leilani, the ArtLab experience was an eye-opening, revelatory growth experience. As she puts it, “ArtLab helped me to take myself seriously as a person and as an artist and helped me uncover the initiative to bring everything I have into my art and into everything I do.” As with all graduations, feelings of accomplishment and expectation are mingled with nostalgia for the time spent with mentors and peers. Leilani treasures the time spent with people she grew to know and love; the demands, the achievements and most of all, the laughter that comes with true camaraderie.
Leilani graduated from ArtLab with two major takeaways; the ability to visualize a future as a professional artist and the power of social activism – at any age. As Leilani observed, “I hope our generation takes itself seriously and is committed to inspiring others to create change.”
Jameelah Mims – Jameelah graduated from high school at the Denver School of Science and Technology; Cole to attend the Community College of Denver, Class of 2022. This might seem like a typical high-school-to-college trajectory, but her story is anything but typical. Surviving a period of homelessness, her family facing ongoing economic struggles and dealing with a learning disability were all part of Jameelah’s road to ArtLab and beyond.
As Jameelah puts it, the freedom of expression and connection to her community afforded by ArtLab were important factors in overcoming these obstacles. “ArtLab provided me with the support I needed to express my feelings through art and have conversations about our lives, politics and everything in between.”
Part of the support Jameelah found was the courage and self-awareness needed to thrive despite her learning disability. As Jameelah expressed it, “I was insecure about my learning disability, but I realized I’m still human and I can be more compassionate with myself. Accepting my learning disability as part of my identity has been important to me.” Jameelah’s struggle and triumph over these trying situations culminated in her being awarded the Mayor’s Youth Award 2018, a program designed to recognize young Denverites who have overcome adversity.
Rogelio Muñoz-Vargas – Rogelio also served on our board of directors as a one of our first youth representatives and graduated from the Denver School of Science and Technology; Cole and now is attending Metropolitan State University, Class of 2022. His background as a Dreamer has spurred activism in the areas of LGBTQ+ rights and DACA. For his senior project at DSST: Cole, Rogelio created a clothing campaign to raise awareness around DACA, the profits from which were donated to United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led community in the country fighting for the DREAM Act.
Rogelio credits ArtLab with providing a supportive environment for his art and for his commitment to social change. “I’m going to miss the sense of community that we created together. I will miss being a part of a group that is very aware of what is going on in the world and is creating art about those issues. I don’t know any other place like ArtLab.”
In the face of the challenges that he and his Dreamer peers face in today’s political climate, Rogelio credits his commitment to honesty, his expectations for his generation and his willingness to stand fast in the face of adversity as contributing factors in the success and self-realization he has achieved to date.