Last Tuesday evening, 30 eager graduates walked across the stage at First Baptist Church in Lenoir City to receive their General Education Development diplomas.
The overall GED class for the Lenoir City/Loudon County Adult Education Program is listed at 80 students, but most could not come due to work or other personal reasons, Lenoir City Schools Adult Education Director Susan Williamson said.
“Last year the (Loudon County) Education Foundation applied for United Way funds to scholarship the GED test,” Williamson said of increased number of students, “so we were able to offer the test free of charge, and that made a huge difference.”
“We have a very good completion rate, and students will make gains if they stay with the program,” she said. “Most of the time when students come to the adult education program, they come because they realize that they are in need of upgrading their education. They realize that if they do not have a high school diploma, they are not even on the first rung of the ladder to achieve success.”
The adult education program usually averages between 60 and 70 students, she said. According to Williamson, GED testers are taught mathematics, science, literature and arts, social studies and reading and writing.
“It took me 52 years to get this,” Betty Nix said. The 71-year-old said she wanted to do get her diploma for her children and grandchildren and have them look up to her. Life without the GED was difficult, she said.
“I mean I had to work on jobs where you did not have to — I worked in factories, and my husband did too, and we had a rough time raising the kids and all, but we did,” Nix said. “They all finished school. Some went to college. They did a lot better than me, and I am proud of that.”
At least 60 percent of first-time testers graduate with a GED, Williamson said. Eighty graduates marks the second highest class for the adult education program, with the most tallying in at 86 in 2008.
United Way funds made obtaining a diploma a more reachable goal, Williamson said, which could be a reason for rising attendance numbers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national unemployment average was 7.6 percent in May. Loudon County’s unemployment rate for last month has not yet been released but in past months has been slightly below the national mark.
“I have a good career, and I had one before I did this, but I was always missing something,” Gail Welch said. “I was always feeling like I was missing something in my life if I wanted to further something else later on — but also my grandchildren and my great nieces and nephews. I want them to accomplish and finish school and everything they can in life. So I did not want me to not have this and me not be able to say you cannot not finish.”
Michelle Hudson said she wanted to get an education to better both herself and her two children and encourage them to continue their education.
“Just to be able to show them that continuing your school and stuff actually helps you to further your education (and) betters you,” she said of why she went back to school. Life without the diploma was “rough because everybody kind of looks their nose down at you and (says), ‘You didn’t graduate high school’ and stuff like that. But once you go back to get your GED, people start to realize that you have accomplished things in your life.”
Hudson is now taking online courses to become a medical billing and coding specialist, she said.
Of the 30 that attended graduation, 11 received scholarships. Brittany Marriott was awarded with the Chamber of Commerce and Education Foundation scholarships. Both were for $500, LCEF Executive Director Michele Lewis said.
Three other scholarships were awarded at the ceremony. A $500 Loudon County Literacy Council scholarship was presented to Fern Conway, Steven Criswell, Sandra Gary, Angelica Gonzalez, Adelaida Ibarra-Amaya, Benny Stinnett, Elizabeth Sutton and Crystal Morrow. Benjamin Baker was given a $3,000 Hubbell scholarship, and Community Church of Tellico Village presented Jessica Wilder a $1,750 scholarship.
“We try to give back that night what they missed in years past,” Williamson said of the graduation ceremony’s importance. “I have never had anyone leave that said they were disappointed. It is a very nice ceremony.”