Second-generation homeschool graduate reflects on upcoming KC-area ceremony

Gracie Neland graduated high school through her mom’s “alma mater” in 2022 – except this was no school or university, but a homeschool nonprofit.

The Midwest Parent Educators (MPE)…

Gracie Neland graduated high school through her mom’s “alma mater” in 2022 – except this was no school or university, but a homeschool nonprofit.

The Midwest Parent Educators (MPE) association will launch its class of 2024 on May 17 at College Church of the Nazarene in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, Kansas, just as it did for Neland’s mom decades ago.

“She actually encouraged me to go through MPE for my graduation as well because she enjoyed the process so much,” Neland said in a recent podcast episode. 

“The best part for me was to see how good the experience was for her and understand that whatever it looks like, whatever the process is going to be, it was going to be a good experience all around.” 

‘I love you, and I appreciate you’ 

The homeschool graduates take the lead in planning each ceremony’s theme and schedule. For example, Neland joined the music committee and worked with other students to practice and confirm all the pieces to be played, both recorded and live music. 

“One of my favorite moments of the night was the rose ceremony,” she said of the nonprofit’s tradition of graduates handing out roses to those who had an impact in their lives. “Just being able to come off the stage and have that connection with them throughout the night as well, and just say thank you, I love you, and I appreciate you.” 

Neland also recalled the service’s “parental blessings,” or moments when each homeschool family spoke words of encouragement over the graduates receiving their diplomas. 

“I thought it was super sweet to just hear all the parents, not even just my own,” she said. “It just speaks so highly of their child and all the ways that they loved them.” 

After the graduation, attendees can join a reception where graduates spend time greeting well-wishers and family. 

“I loved having our senior tables, and that’s after the ceremony,” Neland said. “Seeing all of the amazing personalities and the ways that you could be creative with who you were, and just showcase and highlight your life and look back on all the memories with everybody.” 

Life after high school 

As to career plans, Neland is still pursuing her goal to become a certified occupational therapist assistant (OTA). 

“I just graduated with my associate’s at Kansas City Kansas Community College,” she said. “That was my prerequisite program to get into my specific program to become an OTA. And I’ve really enjoyed the process so far. It’s been great.” 

Neland has also completed an internship at a ranch for children, working with at-risk girls going into Alabama’s foster care system. “That was really important in just being able to work with kids, because I want to do pediatric OTA.” 

She’s now special needs associate for the children’s ministry at Lenexa Baptist Church, where she attends. 

“Church was really helpful as I plugged in there to get weekly connections with other kids my age, and to be able to hang out and then hang out with friends. My family has a ministry where we take in homeless families, and we work within our community to serve people however we’re able to. And through that experience as well, I feel like I’ve never been without a friend.” 

Neland also attended other social events such as dances and homecoming. She even made her own prom with friends one year. 

“I personally feel like I did not really miss anything instead of going to public school, being in homeschool. There are so many awesome circles in the homeschool world that do their best to make sure that you still get great experience with other kids.” 

For this year’s class, Neland offers firsthand advice from her own experience. 

“Just soak up every moment of it, and enjoy it to the fullest. Through the hard times, just remember that you’re so close. I definitely got a little bit of senioritis, but I think using that senioritis energy helps fuel you forward to just push even stronger.”