Mitchell Community College celebrated its high school equivalency graduates Thursday with three speakers who all spoke about how they continued their education despite hard times.
“Our graduation ceremony tonight marks the first of a series of accomplishments that we hope to achieve,” graduate Essence Brown told her fellow graduates, family and friends gathered on Mitchell’s campus. “With the support and guidance of our families and the wonderful faculty of Mitchell Community Education, we all have something in common. We have a firm foundation.”
Brown choked up as she talked about the event that shook her foundation years ago. In sixth grade, she was sexually assaulted which led to her dropping out of high school, she explained.
Now, Brown is back on solid ground. She plans to continue her education at Mitchell College and get her nursing degree.
“I’ve been a good student with high standards and high hopes,” Brown said after a pause to collect herself. “When I got back on my educational track, I must say patience, consistency and a determined mindset were attributes that got me past the obstacles I faced whether it was exams, course assignments or making it to class on time. By the grace of God and my beautiful mom, I finally made it.”
Graduate Latorie Woods talked about how she had lived thinking there was a cap to the accomplishments she could earn.
“I never would have dreamed I would have been here,” Wood said. “I never would have dreamed it because I had a cap on my life. A cap is something I warn my oldest son Malachi about all the time. This cap I speak of is tricky. It can come from anywhere, and it has many faces.”
Woods said she started struggling when her father died when she was 11. She started turning her life around when her oldest son was 2-years-old.
“Pride could not be another obstacle. I had to come clean and admit I needed help for my kids’ sake,” she said.
Woods thanked all of the people and organizations who had helped her get her GED, including an aunt whose last words to Woods were telling her to go back to school.
Three of her children were in the crowd Thursday. It was her youngest child’s birthday.
“Now I tell my children they can do anything they put their minds to. I know because I’ve traded in my old cap for this new and better one,” Woods said, motion to her graduation cap. “I like the way this one fits, if I do say so myself.”
Ending or beginnings
North Iredell High School principal Teresa Hays said 42 years ago she had sat where the graduates were today.
Hays went on to tell her story of growing up in a dysfunctional home with an abusive father. She praised her kindergarten teacher, Ms. Brown and said she learned there were good people in the world and that she was good in kindergarten. She worked hard to learn, so she wouldn’t disappoint her teacher.
Hays said as a 5-year old, she would wake up by herself and get on the bus for school, sometimes without anyone else in her family realizing she was gone.
Hays said she loved school and loved learning. When she was in high school, she reported her father to social services. She dropped out of North Iredell as a senior and married. Her younger sisters left foster care and moved in with her.
“Life is made up of choices,” she said. “You decide whether it’s an ending or beginning.”
She got her GED from Mitchell College and went on to get an associates degree. She continued and got her masters and then her principal’s license. Hays said she is working on her PhD right now.
“My goal is and was to never be embarrassed again and to help other kids not struggle like I did to get their education because education opens doors,” Hays said. “If you should have received your diploma from North, I apologize. I let you down, but I applaud you because you did this on your own.”
Hays gave graduates three pieces of advice for their new beginning. The first was to find a foundation.
“Number two,” Hays said. “Find yourself, keep your head up and look toward the future. Make your events beginnings and not endings. Learn from the experiences.”
Finally, she told graduates to set goals and to not get discouraged if they didn’t achieve every goal on their own timeline.
“Find your foundation, yourself and set your goals,” Hays said. “Make every event a beginning.”
The following individuals received their high school equivalency diplomas from Mitchell Community College Wednesday:
Alberton Beltran Fuentes
Alejandra Castillo Mora
Da’Lyla Dickerson Hardison
Rigoberto Marulanda Salas
Lydia Penley Brando Peralta de la Cruz