A single mother and east Ugandan refugee who wanted to beat the oldest of her six children to a high school diploma; a high school dropout who became a GED dropout because of math; a former AP Honors student who got sidetracked; and a 19-year-old who left high school to support her family.
These are just four stories from the 42 graduates who walked in the 2018 Anne Arundel County High School Diploma Student Recognition Ceremony at the Pascal Center for Performing Arts at Anne Arundel Community College’s campus on Wednesday, October 17, 2018.
“Some of our students face challenges, making it hard to get to class and stay in the program,” said Rena Burkowsky, the basic skills program manager for AACC’s School of Continuing Education and Workforce Development Adult Basic Skills Program, commonly known as Anne Arundel County Public Schools National External Diploma Program (NEDP).
Individuals who pass the GED exam or complete the NEDP earn a Maryland High School Diploma issued by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Many enrolled in AACC’s Adult Basic Skills classes throughout the county, including the Ordnance Road Correctional Center.
“When they earn their diploma, it is due to a lot of hard work and a tremendous amount of perseverance. It’s truly amazing,” Burkowsky said.
New graduate, Wibabara Mupende was forced to leave her home in Uganda because of political issues. She arrived in America at the age of 31.
“There were many things that encouraged me to get my high school diploma, but there was one particular instance that pushed me to make that move,” Mupende said. “At work, there was an open position to be a department coordinator, to which I had all the experience needed but I failed to meet the guidelines because I could not present my high school diploma [which she lost in her family’s flight from Uganda].”
Mupende says her biggest challenge was finding a balance between home, work and school.
“It was not easy to juggle everything having six children at home, while working full-time and going to school,” she said. “I want to set an example for my children and show them that they can achieve their goals and overcome their circumstances if they work hard.”
Graduate Christina Edwards said she knew getting her diploma would open doors that were previously closed.
“I felt like it’s what was required of me to have a better life, the calling on my life that needs to be fulfilled,” said Edwards, the oldest of five children in her family.
“I heard about the program not to long after I tried another program. I figured it would be hard, but I knew I would do whatever it took,” she said. “I want my brothers and sister to go after their dreams and say ‘I want to be like my big sister, when she gets knocked down she always gets back up, she fights and she is determined to get where she wants to be.’ I want my whole story to be heard one day, I want it to inspire people young or old.”
Ruben Guzman earned his diploma after severe difficulties in math, particularly algebra.
“But, I studied every day and I finally got it,” he said. “The first time I heard about the program was when I was 20 and I went in and took the placement exam. I [couldn’t] wait to walk across that stage and, for my mom and dad to see their son walking across that stage makes me so proud,” said Guzman, who is now taking general studies courses in college.
Brianna Garton says high school was a challenge. She had a lot of distractions at home.
“That’s when my counselors told me I could go to AACC and get caught up before I wasted too much time,” Garton said. “The primary challenge for me was accepting the fact that I had failed two classes and then dealing with everyone’s opinions about me not graduating the traditional way.”
Garton says she is driven by the fact that she didn’t have a stable home or a normal childhood.
“So school was my one-way ticket out. My education was my way out. The message I have for others is that if something is important don’t wait— graduate, get your education. You can’t help others until you’ve helped yourself.”