They didn’t give up after missing high school diplomas
By Bryanna Allen
STAFF WRITER | June 27,2014
Bryanna Allen / Staff Photo
Fifteen students in the Vermont Adult Learning program await their general equivalency diplomas Thursday evening at the College of St. Joseph in Rutland.
For some students in the Vermont Adult Learning program, getting to graduation Thursday was a twisting path, years in the making.
Courtney Brookbanks, 24, dropped out of a Georgia high school as a senior.
“I lived with my dad, and he never supported education,” Brookbanks said, dressed in her royal blue cap and gown minutes before receiving her general equivalency diploma, or GED, at the ceremony at College of St. Joseph.”It was hard for me to motivate myself to stay in school, so I didn’t.”
The Vermont Adult Learning program provides adults with the essential classes and resources to continue their education. The program helped more than 310 students statewide improve themselves through education this year alone.
Michelle Folger, manager of the Rutland County program on Evelyn Street for the past four years, said helping students achieve diplomas is the reason she gets out of bed every morning.
“For some of these students, this will be one of the most rewarding days of their lives,” Folger said. “Many of them are nervous, not used to compliments or being successful. It’s a big night for them.”
Folger said 60 students completed their requirements this year, but many of them have moved on to higher education and jobs already, leaving around 15 to attend the ceremony Thursday evening.
Maia Lapiana, 20, dropped out of Rutland High School as a junior for health reasons that left her with massive gaps in her attendance record.
Lapiana said before the ceremony that she felt relief when she initially dropped out, but quickly realized she wouldn’t get far without at least a high school education.
“It was impossible to get a job anywhere,” said Lapiana, adding that she felt shame when people and businesses found out she hadn’t completed high school. “The lack of a job really pushed me to better myself,” she said.
Now, she attends the Community College of Vermont while maintaining her first job.
Yadah Simonelli couldn’t stop smiling as she got in line for her class photo.
“I am so thankful for all who have helped me take these steps,” she said. “I think the world of my teachers, I would never be here without them.”
Keynote speaker Nancy Burzon, executive director of the local Workforce Investment board, spoke to the graduates about achievement.
“This night is a huge accomplishment, one that hasn’t been easy for many of you,” she said. “If you can accomplish such a goal, you can do it over and over throughout your lives.”
Class speaker Zachary Perkins spent two years to getting his GED, spending one night a week in class because he works full-time.
“My parents, sisters, teachers and fiancée have supported me through essays, projects and deadlines,” Perkins said to his class. “I’ll never regret my choice to get my degree. Be proud of all you’ve accomplished.”