BOYS TOWN, Neb. -- Boys Town, founded 65 years ago by a priest with three boys from a juvenile court and two homeless newspaper carriers, Sunday graduated its first class with girls.
'It has been our life. We call it home because it is home,' said Joni Bachelor, 18, of York, chosen by her classmates to speak during commencement exercises on campus. The exercises were held at the Music Hall Auditorium on Boys Town's campus west of Omaha.
'My three years have been very special to me,' Miss Bachelor said. 'We have grown together. There is love between us all.'
Miss Bachelor and three other girls -- Lisa Bordogna, 17, of Lincoln, Jeanette Hoer, 17, of Wahoo, and Cindy Koppenhaver, 17, of Omaha -- were among 44 graduates receiving diplomas from the Rev. Robert P. Hupp, Boys Town's executive director for the past 10 years.
Three other members of the graduating class, including Diana Luce, 18, of Omaha, and two males, received diplomas during mini-ceremonies earlier in the year but were considered part of the 1982-83 class.
Donald D. Black, Boys Town education director, told the graduates the home's education program is a 'Cadillac in the midst of obsolete Studebakers.'
'Had you not succeeded, we would have been the failures,' Black said. 'I'll put you up against any group, any place, any time.'
Hupp said Boys Town had 18 girls living in group homes on the campus, six in a juvenile cottage in Omaha and 159 in Boys Town's cooperative youth care facilities across the country.
'This is a start. It's not a token at all,' Hupp said. 'These are the first five graduates of both our school and our residential program on our campus.'
Hupp broke with tradition by admitting the girls to Boys Town in 1979 as part of a short-term evaluation program that developed into long-term placement.
He said all five girls had serious behavior problems in their homes and were with one-parent families.
'They were nothing but trouble when they came here,' Hupp told United Press International in an interview. 'Today gives us something to be proud of.'
Hupp told the graduation audience having girls at the home 'is not a novel idea by any means.'
Hupp recalled a 1943 letter written by Boys Town founder, Monsignor Edward J. Flanagan, that said in part 'I said 'there is no such thing as a bad boy or a girl.''
Hupp told UPI that having the girls on the campus has raised some eyebrows among veteran Boys Town supporters, 'but when I asked them what they would do if they had a daughter in the same position, it sort of calms them down.'
Following the ceremonies, Miss Bordogna, who plans to attend Doane College in Crete and major in musical therapy, said, 'I feel a lot more confident about myself. They helped me get my life together.
'I just like the people,' she said.