A capacity crowd applauded and cheered as 18 people received their GED certificates in a ceremony at the Rec Center Monday night.
Forty people have achieved their GED since July 1, said Adult Education Coordinator Sarah Campbell, but these were the ones who could make it to the ceremony. Other graduates are already at work, some far from Lewisburg, thanks to the doors opened to job-seekers who have the equivalent of a high school diploma.
"We are here to recognize their outstanding achievement," said Campbell. "Each chose to make a change and do what it takes to pass a test and earn a GED." Graduates ranged in age from 18 to mid-40s.
Campbell said she had watched the students grow and change, gaining in confidence along the way.
"You're not the same people as you were when I first met you," Campbell said. "All of you have changed."
Graduates took turns at the podium, reading poems and making comments about their GED journey.
Daniel Arsenault said, "I was really scared of putting in the effort. I saw others were scared, too." He did put in the effort, did succeed, and now has a chance to go to college.
"Trying to create your own future, that's what it's all about," Arsenault said.
Another graduate who has their sights set on college is Desiree Bannan, 21, who is determined to enter the healthcare field. For the first time in Marshall County, sisters received their GED diplomas together. Bannan's sister Danielle Albert, 27, shared the podium with her to make comments.
Close friend Jackie Lee, who was in the audience helping watch the sisters' children, said he got his GED 10 years ago.
He'd worked at Heil-Quaker for 30 years, and when that closed down went back to school for his GED.
"I was real strict on education for my children," Lee said. "I couldn't do that without having my own."
Once he had his GED, Lee got a job at Goodman, at double the pay he'd been getting. "I made a big change," he exclaimed.
Tonya Young made a big change too, and overcame tremendous difficulties to do so.
Young had some of the audience, as well as herself, in tears as she said, "I know I must face my past in order to move forward." She described how she'd had her first baby at 14, and had three children by the time she was 18.
"I was a crack addict for 14 years," Young said. "I lost my kids. I was raped, beaten, shot, and stabbed, and I had two more kids."
At last, in 2008, she determined to get clean, entered a rehab program, and started her GED.
It took a long time, because "life would show up, and I would have to quit school," Young said.
Now, she said, having a GED has opened a lot of doors.
"I'll be able to be an example to my children," Young said proudly. "It's never too late to get your GED."
Tony Creecy, director of Tennessee Technology Center Pulaski, presented the diplomas and gave the closing remarks.
"I look forward to this graduation," Creecy said. "It always touches my heart. It uplifts me and pushes me forward. What you've accomplished is life-changing. You're to be commended for your courage and determination."
"None of us would be here without their support system," said Campbell when she returned to the podium, praising the friends, parents, grandparents, spouses, and children of the GED graduates. Adult Education has a support system, too, she said. "Cookie Tankersley, Lisa Chapman, and Cynthia McKnight - these three ladies are what enables us to continue."
In addition to the graduates named above, the following also received their GEDs: David Brice, Austin Cole, Jesse Darnell, Nikita David, Jose Eguia, Kirklin England, Charles Harrell Jr., Franklin Haskins, Michael Morgan, Cassidy Moss, Heath Nunley, Stacy Rowland, Gina Saunders-Shook, Shawn Thompson, and Adam Westmoreland.