Two husband-and-wife couples, a grandfather and a mother-and-daughter duo recently received their high school equivalency diplomas at a ceremony last week.
“There were some amazing family connections this year,” said Ann Miller, director of the Unlimited Learning Center.
A standing-room-only crowd of family and friends packed the Cortez Conference Center on Wednesday to witness the Unlimited Learning Center award a total of 45 GEDs. Adorned in royal blue caps and gowns with gold and blue 2013 tassels, the graduates shed tears and flashed smiles as the gathering cheered and whistled with a round of applause.
“This is the opening of many new doors,” Miller told the graduates. “This GED gives you the ability to move forward with your lives and provides choices on which paths you can choose in your lives.”
For 21-year-old Ashley Allen, it was a long, tough passage to earn her GED. She had dropped out of the GED program multiple times over the last four years, saying she just couldn’t motivate herself to complete the diploma requirements. Then her son, Keshawn, was born.
“I just didn’t care,” she said, “but last year, I decided to buckle down, and now I’ve got my GED.”
The journey has been difficult. Allen was in and out of legal trouble, suffered through an abusive relationship with her child’s father and was unemployed without transportation for a time. She said there have been many challenges and obstacles to overcome in order to reach this point in her life.
“I’ve been through hell and back,” she said.
Allen said it was important for her to earn a diploma to set an example for her son. A single mother working two jobs, she accomplished her goal.
“I wanted to be able to tell my son that no matter what life throws at you, you can accomplish your dreams,” she said.
Allen has matured since dropping out of high school at 17, and she now plans to continue her education and one day hopes to work as an ultrasound technician.
“Ashley is an inspiration for me,” said her father, John Allen, of Pagosa Springs. “She makes me want to strive to do more in my life. She’s an amazing girl.”
In the commencement speech, Virgil Caldwell, director of program development and distance learning at Utah State University-Blanding, told graduates they have completed an endurance test, built character and gained new skills. He followed, telling graduates they needed to appreciate their accomplishment and be mindful to pay it forward.
“You have command of your own destiny,” Caldwell said. “You have choices. This is just the beginning.”
Miller believes the Unlimited Learning Center is not only a valuable service to students but it also adds value to the community as a whole.
“We don’t want people to be a burden to the community,” Miller explained. “We want them to contribute to society in a positive fashion.”
During the 2010-11 academic school year, the Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 School District recorded a 7.6 percent dropout rate. To those high school dropouts considering their future, Ashley Allen had some advice.
“You can’t go anywhere without an education,” she said. “Graduating is one of the best things you can do in life.”