Many people who drop out of high school don’t get a second chance to participate in graduation ceremonies and obtain a diploma. One Los Angeles teen who fought for that opportunity will realize it today and she credits the self-confidence and leadership skills she learned through a campus art club.
Ana Sosa, 19, is graduating today. "I’ve been at Lincoln for five years, I’m a super senior, and I’m proud to say it," she says. She's “super” because it took her two years to finish the 12th grade. Her English teacher, Larry Mowrey, figured out why when he met her three years ago.
"I was watching another teacher who was having sort of class management problems and Ana was joining in with a group of kids who were not paying attention and sort of fooling around," Mowrey says, "so I walked up behind her and took her phone away because she was distracted by it and she gave me the dirtiest look."
In Sosa’s junior year, she hit bottom when she realized she didn’t have enough credits to graduate. Her mother, a garment worker, pushed her hard to stay in school and earn her diploma.
But many others in her family didn’t. "I have gang family, I have gang family, and that doesn’t help. They didn’t like the fact that I was getting my education and I wasn’t going to be one more of them. They wanted me to become one of them," she says. "‘What the heck, you’re going to be one of us. You don’t need an education to survive.'"
Sosa says her rebellious streak compelled her to reject those expectations. She gained confidence in her leadership skills through a campus club called LAartlab. She helped organize off-campus lectures and exhibits that included her own drawings.
"Even my dad, he was like, what the heck, you can draw," she says. "My dad hasn’t been there all my life and now he’s there more and now he says, 'Mija, use your skills, draw on people’s books, draw on people’s face, draw on people’s windows.'"
Ana Sosa’s masterwork covers a 10-foot-by-20-foot wall in the club’s meeting room. Two large multicolored koi fish bookend 10 faces – some half-animal, half-human. The title of the painting could be “The Faces of Ana.”
Through LAartlab Sosa’s learned that she can mold her love of art into a career as an art teacher or an art therapist. "There’s an artist at Avenue 50 that he wakes up in the morning at whatever time he wants and paints," she says. "He gets paid for painting. That’s the job I want, a job that I feel very successful or very happy for."
Sosa and the other Lincoln High School grads only get a few tickets to today’s ceremony. She’s given hers to her mom and step dad, her two little sisters and her father. On the eve of the ceremony, she says her hair, makeup and dress are the least of her worries.
"I just hope I don’t trip. I’ve seen the ceremony. I’m just going to be shocked when I get my graduation flag. 'Here mom, here you go, it’s a paper,'" she said.
Or perhaps, more than a paper. For Ana Sosa, it’ll symbolize what happens when you grab hold of a second chance.