As the Adult Basic Education students walked before the podium in their caps and gowns on Wednesday, July 26, they put a seal on more than the usual 12 years of school. Some had waited for this moment for decades.
There were 61 people who passed the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET for short), most of whom were present at the graduation ceremony, held on the seventh floor of Scibelli Hall at Springfield Technical Community College.
Ana Sanchez, one of the coordinators of the Adult Basic Education program at the community college, said this graduation is one of the largest the program has had. Usually there are about 40 graduates.
At the event, Springfield Technical Community College Vice President of Academic Affairs Arlene Rodriguez said it was her honor to be able to speak to the graduates.
“It reminds me of why I got into teaching in the first place. This is why we do what we do,” she said.
She added that educating a single person means educating a family, and educating a community. The word “educate” comes from the Latin “educere,” which means to lead out, she said.
The HiSET is a difficult test, she continued, but the students sitting in front of her passed a harder test before even sitting down at their first class.
“Remember the day that you decided that, ‘Yes, I’m going to do this’? That was tough. Even tougher still was the test you passed when you walked in the door to sign up to do this,” Rodriguez said. “It is not an easy thing to do to interrupt your life, to say, “Stop. I’m going to do this for me.”
She extended her congratulations and thanks to the families seated in the audience, many of whom had small children, craning their necks to see their mothers, fathers, or other relatives seated in the graduates’ row.
“It means maybe dinner’s late; maybe dinner’s in a bag for a few days; maybe things have to change and responsibilities have to shift, and it’s like you’re in school as well,” she said. “So thank you to the families.”
Alexis Greenblatt, the English language arts instructor for the program, said the HiSET packs 12 years worth of learning into a single exam — it’s not just algebra, but arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statistics and probability, and the same is true in each subject area.
“In many ways it would have been easier to just graduate [high school], but if you’re sitting here, in one of these seats, something probably got in the way,” she said. “Maybe you had a learning disability and got left behind. Maybe your teachers didn’t take the time for you. Maybe you had a pregnancy you didn’t expect. Maybe your home life was really difficult. Maybe you were bullied.”
Social studies and history teacher Patrick Roche called the graduates the ones who make this country great.
“There are second chances, but second chances are not just given,” he said. “They don’t just fall out of the sky. They take work.”
Roche said he was personally inspired by the work of the graduates, and asked them to be an inspiration to others, contacting a friend and telling them about what they had done, and telling them that it is possible for them to do it, too.
Before those present went up to receive their certificates, student speaker Sophear Chhoun spoke to the crowd.
“It’s been 12 years since I left my high school and in those years I’ve had time to reflect on my life,” he said. “I often felt destined to accomplish more.”
Chhoun said his family were refugees escaping genocide. Now with the help of the adult learning program staff, he said he is proud to call himself a college student. He will be studying criminal justice at STCC.
After the ceremony, Jennifer Henry, 46, said she had been eager to sign up, and did so in 2014. She struggled with her science studies as well as balancing family life and work as a certified nurse’s assistant with her classes, she said.
“I never missed a class,” she said.
With three kids and a husband, she said she was active in making time for her homework and studies.
Now she is a student at Springfield Technical Community College, where she hopes to do her best.
Annicia Banks, 61, of Springfield, said she hoped she would get her high school equivalency sooner in her life, but said she was glad that it happened.
Her friends had described her as a motivational person for others, and she said they suggested that she turn her motivational powers on herself to get her high school equivalency.
“It’s something you have to do; no one is going to do it for you,” she said.
As a Christian, she said she has a lot of reliance on God to bring her through. Her father died at an early age, and she had to raise some of her siblings as her own mother struggled with being an immigrant.
“I know something great is going to happen,” she said. “And to all the other people who don’t think they can do it, I did it, and so can you.”
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.