[HARP PLAYING] LEROY TAYLOR: I didn't expect, when I came to prison, to be experiencing a moment like this.
NATHAN POWELL: I mean, it's not every day that you get a chance to be with your friends and family, and share a positive moment.
BERNARD THRIST: My mother's supposed to be here, my sister, my daughter, my grandson. When they come here, I hope that my family will see a changed man.
TYREEK WILLIAMS: This change right here marks the most important change in my life. It just means evolution. We, as a human being, have evolved.
LUCAS WHALEY: I has given me the tools that I needed to think things through, rather than just react to things. I mean, most of us end up here because of that. We don't think things out. We just react emotionally. The environment feeds that once you get here, but CPEP has helped changed that.
NATHAN POWELL: There's a real magic to these classes. You're shaping the way the class is taught. And they become something more than just a class.
MAURICE MCDOWELL: I don't have a specific favorite. I enjoyed a lot of classes-- English, because I love writing.
TYREEK WILLIAMS: I would have to say meditation. The instructor, she was really helpful. I really appreciated that.
QUENTIN J. LEWIS: The things that I've learned, I'm able to really practice. I'm involved in a youth leadership organization right here in the facility. We teach civic consciousness, community service, your duty as a citizen.
LEROY TAYLOR: This program has allowed me to move forward. I was sentenced to life. So I want to live. And my daughter is coming here to witness this graduation today-- god willing with the snow that she makes it through.
LEROY'S SISTER: I know he's worked so hard. And he's written so many things about me and my brother. And he does it for us. I'm very happy to see him here graduate.
[MUSIC - "POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE]
SPEAKER: This year's student address will be given by Leroy Taylor.
LEROY TAYLOR: Cornell Prison Education Program is not only about education. It's about bringing people together.
KHALIB J. GOULD: A lot of times, we get judged for who we are on paper. They see your crime, and that's all. The comments that I get back at the end of class, that lets me know that they see me for who I really am, as opposed to what's being said.
DORIS BUFFETT: I cannot tell you how very proud I am of each and every one of you. You've done just one heck of a job.
SPEAKER: Please welcome to the stage, this year's valedictorian, Nathan Powell.
NATHAN POWELL: Short-term gain was never the goal of liberal arts. The goal is to learn as much as possible, especially how to think, so you can get back to and enrich your community. The rest of the world had us tagged and bagged. And you came in here, and you cared. And we will pass your gift on. Thank you.
DAVID BENDEZU: I just want to show them that I tried to make it right. I messed up. And I wasn't there for them. But I just want to get back. This is like my way of saying thank you.
LUCAS WHALEY: We have a responsibility to be beacon to all those lost in the darkness, to burn away the gloom of ignorance, and provide a clear path to a stronger society, one where no one spark is left to fade. And where no one's promise is left unfulfilled. Thank you.
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The Cornell Prison Education Program community convened Dec. 10, 2014 for a heartwarming ceremony to confer A.A. degrees to its second graduating class at the state prison in Auburn, New York.