Leavenworth Mayor Jermaine Wilson shared words he needed to hear when he was a juvenile offender as he spoke recently to the high school graduating class at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex.

“It was an honor being able to come back and give back to a place I used to call home,” Wilson said. “Seeing the graduates today reminded me no matter where you are in life, you can still change. As long as they continue to work hard, success will follow them everywhere they go. But they must work it every single day. If they continue to believe in themselves, others will invest and believe in them as well.”

Wilson, who served time in both adult and juvenile facilities, was the keynote speaker for the graduating class of two female and 16 male juvenile offenders at a ceremony Friday.

Wilson kept the students in rapt attention as he spoke about serving time at KJCC and more recently at Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing. He was released in December 2010 and his record was expunged in 2015. Wilson worked to turn his life around and became mayor of Leavenworth in January 2019.

During the ceremony, a male offender, who plans to become a doctor, was announced as the recipient of the Marge Paige Merit Scholarship. The $2,000 scholarship is awarded based on GPA, behavior, goals and an essay. In addition, any offender who earns a GED receives a $250 scholarship, and any offender who earns a high school diploma receives a $500 scholarship.

The Topeka-based juvenile facility is the state’s only correctional facility for juveniles and is the only facility to house males and females. The facility currently has a population of 155 males and 11 females.