Diplomas in determination
Laura Chaparro wanted to finish school, but life got in the way.
Chaparro, now 19, married young and had a baby. With the little one out of diapers, and with a second on the way, she decided it was time to finish her high school education with the General Educational Development degree program, better known as the GED, at Colorado Mountain College.
Wednesday, Chaparro was among 36 people awarded either the equivalent of a high school diploma or a certificate to mark the completion of the college’s English as a Second Language program.
There were plenty of tears and hugs at the ceremony, conducted in both Spanish and English, with CMC instructor Roger Wood providing the Spanish translation. In fact, 25 of the 36 students honored Wednesday either took their GED classes in Spanish or completed the English as a Second Language program.
This summer’s graduating class was actually a bit smaller than past groups.
“The first year we offered the Spanish GED ” three years ago ” the class was huge,” instructor Janet Rivera said. A lot of Spanish-speaking adults who come to this country haven’t had the opportunity to finish school in their native lands because of lack of transportation to school, among other reasons, Rivera said.
That’s why the chance to earn a degree is so important, campus director Peggy Curry said.
“This is a life accomplishment for these people,” Curry said. “It’s hard to do this.”
Many, if not most, of the students had to find time for classes and homework in lives that already include jobs and children. And virtually all the Spanish-speaking students know how crucial it is to learn how to communicate in English.
“These are life skills,” teacher Jan Attoma said to the graduates. “These are skills for going to the bank, for writing checks, for reading contracts with landlords.”
Without the college’s presence and support, the students wouldn’t be able to do that, Attoma said.
The college received plenty of credit from the students, too.
All the students at the ceremony were invited to talk for a moment or two about what finishing their class work meant to them. Nearly all thanked their families, and some thanked God. But most also thanked the college for helping them get an education.
Andres Castillo, 36, came to the United States from his native Puerto Rico two years ago. After starting his GED program in New Jersey, he was able to finish it in Eagle County.
“It’s a very proud day for me,” Castillo said, adding that he intends to take college classes now, focusing on either visual arts or computer programming.
Chaparro said she’s already started college work, taking an on-line course, and fellow graduate Nicole Hutchins said she’s determined to go on to college and earn a teaching degree.
Hutchins, a 29-year-old single mother of two, said she came back to finish her high school because she’d discovered her desire to teach while working at a day care center. But that wasn’t her only reason.
“Because my high school teachers told me I couldn’t do this,” she said.
While Hutchins, Castillo and Chaparro have college in their futures, Gregg said most students don’t continue their education once they get their GEDs.
“We want to get more students into college,” Gregg said. “We want to be able to provide more counseling. There are financial barriers and we’re trying to get scholarships for more students, too.”
No matter what students do after earning their degrees and certificates, though, the graduates were excited to have completed some of their education.
Married with a daughter, Marcele Reyes took the extra step of taking his GED classes in English. “It’s better to learn more English, to do more writing and reading in English,” Reyes said.
Standing before his fellow students and their supporters, with his arms around his wife and young daughter, Reyes thanked his family for supporting him, then told the group, “This will not be the last of my accomplishments.”