CCCC graduates largest Adult High School/GED class in school history

Jan. 18, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

Graduation for Central Carolina Community College’s Adult High School/General Educational Development programs was a huge celebration, complete with a crowd, cheering, applause, balloons and hundreds of cameras, smartphones and iPads recording the excitement.

The Jan. 16 event at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center attracted a crowd of about 1,700 to honor the achievements of more than 400 students — the largest adult education graduating class, by far, in the college’s history. By comparison, 258 students earned high school or GED diplomas in fall 2012. About 250 of the graduating students took part in the Jan. 16 commencement exercises.

“These students have begun to put their lives on a path that leads to better employment, more education and a better life for themselves and their families,” said CCCC President Dr. Bud Marchant.

Approximately 380 students earned GEDs and 50 received high school diplomas. The number of GED graduates was so large because the college’s Adult High School/GED faculty and staff did a major outreach during the fall to those who had not completed the battery of five tests, encouraging them to do so before the end of the year. As of Jan. 1, there is a new series of tests and the students would have lost credit for the old ones.

“Everybody had to work hard to overcome the challenges,” said Dawn Tucker, dean of College and Career Readiness, which includes the high school and GED programs. “We worked so hard because of the students. They wanted to accomplish their GED before it changed. They rose to the occasion.”

One of those was student speaker Yony Reyes Sanchez of Siler City. He was one of 24 Chatham County students who earned their GED through the college’s partnership with Wake Technical Community College’s High School Equivalency Program (HEP). The program is offered at CCCC’s Siler City Center for members of migrant and seasonal agricultural worker families.

Reyes came to the United States from Honduras when he was 15. He attended high school until he was 18 and then had to drop out for financial reasons. He found work as a vegetable farm field hand.

“I felt bad about myself because I wasn’t able to finish school,” he said. “Then my wife told me about a program that helps farm workers get their GED. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for, and I was going to take advantage of it.”

His dream now is to continue his education and become an architect.

“I want to continue dreaming because, as an immigrant, we are all dreamers,” he told the audience. “Now, I see that we can all continue studying. Now, I see this as a reality and not just a dream locked inside of us.”

The other student graduation speakers were Brian Burgess of Harnett County and Gustavo Rivera of Lee County.

Burgess dropped out of school as a teenager in 1987. He credited his brother, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and his father with urging him to return and get his GED. He enrolled in June 2013.

“Twenty-seven years after I dropped out, I’m standing here,” he said. “I never thought it would happen. I thank Central Carolina Community College for everything — you’re awesome.”

Rivera dropped out of school in the ninth grade. He held a variety of jobs, married and is the father of twins.

“One day, my daughter asked why I didn’t finish high school,” he said. “I didn’t want them to think it was okay to make a bad decision, so I decided to go back to school.”

Achieving his goal of earning his GED has inspired Rivera to continue his education.

“I’m not going to stop here,” he said. “I’m going for a degree in Criminal Justice. Some say that is impossible, but with God, nothing is impossible.”

Twenty-seven graduates were recognized during the exercises for achieving either a 95 or higher grade point average in their Adult High School classes or scoring 3000 or higher on their GED tests. They wore gold cords with their graduation robes, signifying their accomplishment.

Thirty-nine of the graduates also earned a North Carolina Career Readiness Certificate. That is a portable credential adults can take anywhere in the country to show employers specific employability skills in the areas of reading for information, applied mathematics, and locating information.

Several students were awarded scholarships to continue their education. Christopher Collins of Chatham County, Kathleen Gilmore of Harnett County and Jackelynette White of Lee County all received a CCCC Board of Trustees Scholarship. Jarelle Ricks of Lee County received the W.B. Wicker Scholarship. All the graduates received a Tuition Scholarship Voucher for one continuing education or one three-credit hour curriculum course at CCCC to encourage them to continue their education.

Dr. Pam Senegal, CCCC vice president of Economic and Community Development, closed the exercises with a quote from the children’s author, Dr. Seuss:

“You’re off to great places! Today is your day!” she told the graduates. “Your mountain is waiting, so … get on your way!”

Graduate Amy Monk of Harnett County is not only taking that advice to heart, but also sharing it with her children.

“I dropped out in 2001, and it feels great to finally get my high school diploma,” she said. “Now, I plan to enroll at CCCC and study early childhood education and business management so I can open my own daycare center.”

Then Monk looked at her three children, ages 13, 12 and 10, who clustered around her, excited and proud of their mother’s achievement.

Monk smiled at them and said, “I say to my kids, finish school, get a degree — be all you can be!”