News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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June 6, 2014

Graduate found what she needed at Washington

17 fellow students walk out with diplomas

TERRE HAUTE — Amber Gussler didn’t want to attend Booker T. Washington High School.

She wanted a diploma from a “real high school.”  

But when her grades started dropping, she realized she had to give Washington a chance — and she has no regrets.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” she said during the school’s 2014 commencement program, which took place at the Terre Haute South Vigo auditorium. She was one of 17 graduates who walked across the stage.

She also has a 17-month old daughter, Isabel, who later had her own opportunity to cross the stage as a “graduate” of the Alternatives for Living and Learning Nursery housed at the school.

“I cannot thank Washington enough for all they’ve done for my daughter and me,” Gussler said. “I’ve achieved my academic goals and built numerous friendships.”

She credited Washington faculty with “helping me find myself and for showing me I had a voice. You have inspired me to become a better person.”

Gussler attended Washington for two years while working 30 hours a week. She graduated with a 3.1 GPA and plans to continue her studies at Ivy Tech. She graduated with a Core 40 diploma, as did several other students.

Principal Karen Andrews described the class of 2014 as a small one but “a very good class. They’ve done an outstanding job and overcome many obstacles.”

Superintendent Dan Tanoos thanked parents for being a “guiding light” supporting students as they worked to finish high school.

He noted that Gussler, during her speech, had said she thought she knew what path her life would take, but when her situation changed, her path changed as well.

The most important thing, Tanoos said, was that “she stayed on the path. She stayed on that journey … and while circumstances changed, she still kept her eye on the destination — graduation.”

He congratulated graduates for their vision and commitment and encouraged them to continue their learning as they go on to college, the workforce or military.

Another student celebrating graduation was  Lauren Heckelsmiller-Evans, whose mother died last fall and who gave birth to her son, Chase, soon afterward. He is 9 months old.

According to Andrews, Evans missed just one day of school for the funeral. Evans credits the support of Booker T. Washington staff with helping her continue. “We’re all really close. They feel like my family,” she said. “It was easy coming to school during that rough time.”

A certified nursing assistant with the Sisters of Providence, she will start college in the fall and her goal is to become a registered nurse.

Also during the ceremony, Kimberly Scamihorn received a $1,000 college scholarship from ESG.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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