TERRE HAUTE —
Michelle McClendon’s first child was born when she was 15.
She tried to stay in school, but it was just too much, so she dropped out to take care of her daughter.
She always intended to go back to school. And finally, Wednesday night, she accomplished her goal. Now 39, and the mother of two adult children and a 12-year-old, she was one of 50 Vigo County School Corp. GED graduates to participate in a ceremony at Woodrow Wilson Middle School.
“It took me 20 years to get to this point, and I’m ecstatic about it,” she said prior to the ceremony. “I’m appreciative of all the people who worked to make this day happen for me” and the other graduates.
On several occasions, she tried to pursue the GED but something always got in the way, whether transportation or family issues.
This year, she made up her mind she would get it done. Her daughter, Ashraiah DeBow, who graduated from Terre Haute North Vigo High School a few years ago, has been her inspiration.
“Watching my daughter’s graduation really brought tears to my eyes and inspired me to go ahead and do what I should have done a long time ago,” McClendon said.
DeBow, who will graduate from Harrold Beauty Academy next month, sat in the audience, along with several other family members.
“I felt like the mom sitting in that audience today,” DeBow said after the 30-minute graduation program. “I just cried so hard. It’s been a long time coming and we’ve just been pushing each other to do more and more. Her moment is finally here. I couldn’t be happier than the way I feel right now. I am overwhelmed.”
McClendon’s not done with her education. She plans to pursue training to become a certified nursing assistant and looking to the future, she wants to obtain a nursing degree.
“I’m proud of her,” said her son, Marcus McClendon, as the family made its way to a reception in the cafeteria sponsored by Altrusa.
The Vigo County School Corp. conducted its 23rd annual GED graduation ceremony Wednesday.
This past year, 195 individuals earned their GED credential and they ranged in age from 16 to 54, said Jeff Clutter, VCSC college and career preparation manager. Fifty of them chose to participate in the graduation program.
The GED gives those who did not complete high school the opportunity to earn a high school equivalency credential.
It’s a second chance, and it’s a step to a better job, post-secondary education or improved income to provide for their families, he said. “Maybe it’s just a personal thing they needed to accomplish.”
The VCSC Adult Education program encourages GED graduates to “not just stop with the GED, but do something with it,” he said earlier in the day.
The ceremony recognizes what they have accomplished and “gives them encouragement to keep going,” he said.
Superintendent Dan Tanoos also spoke, telling the graduates, “It’s not about where you were, but it’s about where you want to be.”
He told them how his own father obtained a GED and then pursued a successful 28-year career with the Terre Haute Police Department. “As I look at you, I see my father,” Tanoos told the graduates. “There is a great part of your life ahead of you. You’ll have great successes, you’ll do wonderful things and I look forward to hearing about those accomplishments.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the large audience of family and friends loudly cheered the graduates and gave them a standing ovation.
Four of the GED graduates spoke during the program, including Jessica Braun, who dropped out of high school at age 17 when she became a single mom. Through the years, she worked many minimum wage jobs, but as she got “older and much wiser,” she realized she wanted more.
“I want a stable career to provide the best I can for my family and I would not settle for less,” Braun said. Her husband, Ted, has encouraged her, and her 4-year-old daughter has told her, “Mommy, do your homework.”
Braun will go to Ivy Tech in the fall to pursue a career in nursing, and one day, she hopes to work at a children’s hospital.
Another GED graduate, Jeremiah Briggs, took adult education classes to prepare for the GED while living at the Light House Mission earlier this year.
He quit school at age 17; today he is 25.
After successfully passing the GED test, he realized he needed to do more. He is now a certified nursing assistant and pursuing a job in Indianapolis, where he lives. He hopes to go further in nursing.
He thanked the adult education staff “for allowing me to start over with a better life due to the education they provided.”
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.