‘I made a promise to my son’

GED graduates celebrate educational milestone

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Robert Doyle and his daughter, Shannon Gustafson, both received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.<br/>

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Robert Doyle and his daughter, Shannon Gustafson, both received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Robert Doyle and his daughter, Shannon Gustafson, both received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.<br/>

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Robert Doyle and his daughter, Shannon Gustafson, both received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Students received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.<br/>

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Students received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Students received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.<br/>

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Students received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Robert Doyle and his daughter, Shannon Gustafson, both received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.<br/>
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Robert Doyle and his daughter, Shannon Gustafson, both received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.<br/>
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Students received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.<br/>
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Students received their GEDs during ceremonies last night at Greenfield Community College.<br/>

GREENFIELD — Shannon Gustafson — a Greenfield woman in her 30s and mother of six, who had not finished high school — never gave much thought to the General Educational Development (GED) program.

But when her 3-month-old son Joshua died unexpectedly and she was laid off from her job, she “felt her entire life had fallen apart.”

“One evening, in deep despair, I made a promise to my youngest son,” said Gustafson, who began months of preparation for the GED tests — which, if passed, means the individual has attained the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Gustafson passed the tests and enrolled at Greenfield Community College this fall. And on Thursday night, she was one of 35 to be honored at a GED graduation ceremony in the GCC dining commons.

“We really are extremely proud of your achievements. ... You’ve learned how to learn,” said GCC President Robert Pura. “You know for a fact that you can attain the next step because you attained this step.”

Thursday night was an evening of celebration for students, ranging in age from 16 to 64, who for a variety of reasons never graduated from high school. As “Pomp and Circumstance” played, the students marched down a center aisle, clad in black graduation caps and gowns.

Since last October, 133 students earned their GEDs by completing and passing a series of five exams at GCC, said Jean Boucias, coordinator of testing. Some took classes through the Franklin Hampshire Career Center or The Literacy Project. Young mothers studied at the Family Learning Center. Others took part in the Community Corrections Program, which offers classes to individuals on probation.

In addition to an address by Gustafson, past GED graduates Terrisita Williams and Stephanie Gale shared their experiences with the current graduating class. They stressed the importance of continuing education by enrolling in a college program.

And the students heard from another non-traditional student: Judith Roberts, executive director of The Literacy Project, who earned her associate’s degree at GCC over a period of 15 years.

“This is a new beginning. You’re going to build on the success that you have here today,” Roberts told the students.

“I wish I could say there is a road paved in gold out there for you. There’s not,” she said. “You already know that. You have to build the road.”

Before students were awarded their certificates one-by-one, they heard from one final speaker: a video address by Bill Cosby, who was also a GED student.

“We’re called late bloomers,” said Cosby. “I’m proud to be a late bloomer. ... I want to welcome all of you. It’s our world.”

Gustafson, who wants to become a licensed grief counselor, sat in the front row throughout the ceremony.

Seated at her left was her father, Robert Doyle, also a GED graduate. After he was laid off from his job, the 50-year-old Greenfield man decided to start anew and pursue a computer information technology degree.

“I figured in order to move on, I need more education,” he said. “I finally had to get that one hurdle done with.”

Elaina Arce, 25, also celebrated her graduation Thursday. The ceremony marked the end of a nine-year process for the Greenfield resident, who said she completed her degree for her two young children.

“I came a long way, went through a lot of ups and downs,” said Arce, who now wants to go to college to become an activity director at a nursing home. “I finally got my GED (so that) my kids have a better life than the life I had.”

“(For) most of these graduates, there is a moment that is the motivating moment when they turn their direction,” said Allen Fowler, a GED instructor at the Family Learning Center. “It is always humbling to hear the challenges they face and overcome.”

In order to earn their GED, students must reach a certain mark in each of five tests — mathematics, science, social studies and two English/language arts exams in writing and reading — while also hitting a minimum total aggregate score.

In 2011, students who tested at GCC had an 80 percent passing rate, 14 percent higher than the state average, said Boucias.

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