Guest Blogger: Emilio Zamarripa, Youth Development Director
On the evening of October 1, 2015, a group of about 30 people gathered to celebrate three young adults for accomplishing a goal they had set for themselves in 2014. It wasn’t listed in the papers or shown on any news outlets. However, the reported impact of the event was monumental. Steepletown held its first GED graduation ceremony since GED Testing Services changed its testing requirements in January 2014. This testing modification has continued to be a challenge to thousands upon thousands of people all across the United States. However, these 3 students in Grand Rapids, Michigan were grounded in their decision to complete all 4 tests.
In years past, Steepeltown has held GED graduation ceremonies on a bi-annual basis. Ending the 2013 calendar year with 40 graduates within a 6 month period had the organization feeling fairly confident in anticipation of the new testing format. However, reality hit hard when by June 2014, Steepletown had no graduates. Morale was at an all-time low, and it seemed like staff was working hardest at merely keeping the students’ spirits up. This unfortunate reality led to a decision to hold off on hosting another ceremony until more students earned the GED. Then, on July 23, 2014, Steepletown had its first GED graduate. Next person to finish was on September 25, 2014. Then there was yet another pause.
At this point in time, community members and stakeholders began to question the reason behind the low number of graduates. Could the tests really be that difficult? Are students not going to class? Is the GED worth it anyway? Why this? Why that? Questions continued, and all the while, Steepletown students and staff remained focus on a solution. Just after turning the page from 2014 to 2015, another student passed her fourth and final test on January 28th, 2015. So in just over a year, 3 students earned their GED at Steepletown. Not “just” 3 students. Three students. To put it into perspective, at this time, GED completion rates across the U.S. were down by almost 90%. So simple math tells us that these three young people are the top 10% of test takers for having accomplished this goal!
The months leading up to October 2015 were very successful. Although no other student was able to complete all 4 tests, many are fast approaching. Active students have reported that having seen the actual cap and gown they would wear for graduation keeps them motivated to continue their studies. Others say that it feels more realistic that they can graduate. So in the late afternoon on the first of October, Steepletown recognized three students not just for their accomplishment, but for encouraging the dreams of others to do the same. With their families, these three students marched down the center aisle of the Basilica of St. Adalbert with heads high and glowing smiles. Each family was designated a pew, where they shared tears of joy, thumbs up, snapping photos, and a roaring applause when presented with Steepletown’s graduating class. Following the ceremony was a family-style dinner reception that offered families, and staff, time to reflect on the growth of their graduate and share stories of the process.
By the end of the evening, the sense of pride each of the graduates exhibited was felt by all. One graduate stated that he remembered the hardships of the process, and glad he found it within himself to continue. This is something that we as an organization can’t own; nor can the families of our students. The questions that had been raised when GED completion numbers were down didn’t represent the entire picture. Community members from all walks of life have come through the doors of Steepletown in search of success – defined differently person to person. And each of these people face various responsibilities and barriers. So to make a choice, and standing behind that choice, is a foundation of success that can only be owned by the decision maker. These three amazing young people are a catalyst for active GED students, currently pursuing their goal of GED completion. We are all looking forward to our next graduation ceremony in April 2016, and again every 6 months that follow.