As many of you know, MVTC residents “graduate” once successfully completing their treatment goals. One of the most powerful traditions at Mountain Valley is the usually emotional graduation ceremony, during which the proud graduate is asked to address the audience, composed of fellow residents, staff, and family. One recent grad, Joelle Higa from Honolulu, Hawaii, experienced a longer than usual journey through MVTC, first successfully completing the therapeutic phase, then moving on, and graduating from, Mountain Valley’s Enhanced Academic Phase. Joelle now returns to the prestigious Punahou School (alma mater of President Obama, among other notables), and with her and her parents’ permission, we share her heartfelt graduation speech with all of you!

204 days ago, I set foot in the snowy Mountain Valley parking lot. 204 days later, as I’m writing this speech on my last ride to Baker, I’m trying to think of ways to express my gratitude to everyone who’s been on this long journey with me, but I realized that nothing I say or write will ever make anyone fully understand how much I appreciate everything that has happened since I arrived here in the dead of winter.

That being said, I can honestly say that my time at Mountain Valley has definitely saved and changed my life. I have been putting off figuring out what I’m going to say because I don’t even think it’s possible to take all the emotions inside of me and transpose it to make sense on a piece of paper.

I could probably ramble on for literally hours and hours thanking every single one of you in this room, but given the time constraints, I will try to make this short- ish.

Mountain Valley has definitely opened up my eyes to all the wondrous things this world has to offer that I was just too preoccupied to notice before. I discovered the best adrenaline rush in the world when sliding the tip of my snowboard over the edge of a black diamond, felt the carefree rush of the crisp air as I biked alongside the country-side, and experienced the thrill of jumping off a rock into a river on a blazing hot summers day. I think that at least 90% of the activities I’ve participated in here were a first for me.

204 days ago, I would have never thought I’d be rolling and sliding in a big field of mud, giving a finger-painted horse a bath, or holding worms while going fishing. I also never thought that I would be getting what I thought in the past were unsatisfactory grades and then being able to move on with life. Even though I never, ever would have imagined me doing those things, I’m glad I can, because the most important thing I’ve learned throughout my stay at Mountain Valley is that- I don’t need a perfect life…all I want is a happy life. In my eyes, if I’m happy, then that’s basically as close to perfect, as I will get.

Fellow residents:

As I’ve probably by now seen at least 80-ish people come and go throughout my entire stay, I would really like to thank you for helping me recognize and remember the strong value of friendship that I had so long forgotten. It’s been a long time since I can actually remember the feeling of being in a true friendship as I had other priorities at the time, but because every resident here at Mountain Valley is so supportive, understanding, and kind, it made it extremely hard to isolate. Ultimately, I now know that no letter grade or big final is ever going to be more important than having friends that you can count on.

I know that all of you will do amazing things in your journey through the rest of your treatment at Mountain Valley and after Mountain Valley, because just the fact that you’re here and working on things makes you a whole lot stronger than you may think you are.


As I’ve said in your letters, “you must know that I greatly appreciate all the work you did to help me here at Mountain Valley because it really did change and save my life. It’s people like the staff at Mountain Valley that come to work solely because they truly care about what they’re doing that really help make a difference in this world. You really do make a huge impact on each and every one of the resident’s lives for the better. I’m very grateful for all of the knowledge, advice, and support you have given me, and I’ll be sure to remember the things I’ve learned from you and apply them to my daily life back in Hawaii.”

Knower Academics:

Thank you so much for helping me through and putting up with all my academic anxiety and all of my concerns and worries regarding my work. Without the Knower Academics instructors, I wouldn’t have been able to work on my perfectionistic tendencies or anxiety about bad grades. Most of all, I’d like to thank Knower for giving me the confidence I’ve often lacked in myself in regards to my ability to perform academically.


It’s been a SUPER DUPER long and wild ride, so thank you so much for being there for me as I stumbled down the bumpy road of ups and downs. You are literally SUPER WOMAN! —Not only can you bench press like 100 billion pounds, work like a million jobs, but also manage to be such an AMAZING, and helpful therapist who I will never, ever forget and will miss very dearly.

I feel like this speech or whatever this is getting really long, so the rest will be in the letter I wrote you (and also because I will really, really lose it if I keep going).

Mom, Dad, and Jacie:

Thank you for going on every step of this long and ongoing journey with me, because I’m well aware that it must have not been easy. I’ve missed you guys very dearly and am so, so very excited to be coming home so we can live as a family again. I’m so extremely blessed and fortunate for getting the chance to have gone and learned so much about myself here at Mountain Valley, and I would just like to thank both of you for always providing me with the tools to learn and grow to provide me to be successful- but most importantly, happy.

Mom- You are my inspiration, I know how tremendously hard you work your very high positioned and stressful job everyday, and I’m well aware of all the things you have accomplished and overcome to be able to support Jacie and I today. Not only are you an inspiration as a hard worker, you also know how to be a caring and supportive mother who always puts the needs of others before hers.

Dad- When ether it be in academics, golf, or whatever I’m inclined to do, you are my supporter. Ever since I was little, you’ve told me to never give up, and you told me you’d always be there for me no matter what. Yes, you may be strict and a little OCDish at times, but I want you to know that you’re still my best friend and have always been since I told you that when I was really young.

Jacie- I know we are polar opposites and I was too preoccupied with school work to interact with you in the past, but I want you to know that I have always loved you very much and am determined to be the big sister that I know I can be when I get back home. I’m excited for all the memories we will make in the future as you are truly such an amazing and thoughtful person (well…most of the time…haha).

To sum it up, I’m forever thankful to everyone in this room for helping me through everything, and for helping me regain the will to live.