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    Adult education graduation honors the non-traditional path

    Schueyler Francis, 20, waits nervously for the Adult Education graduation ceremony to begin June 5 at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn. Francis’ mother, 1-month-old son and his son’s mother came to witness him receive his high school diploma. —Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny
    With their feet keeping beat to the piano processional, a crowd entered the Stone Bridge auditorium to a sea of applause. Dressed in identical blue robes with yellow tassels, the students ranged from teenagers with facial piercings to an adult with a gray five o'clock shadow. Despite the differences, they all proudly walked together, apart of something many of them never thought they'd experience: they were graduating.

    The ceremony honored 47 students from Loudoun's Adult Education program.

    “Without adult education, I know not what would have become of me,” said 42-year-old Zenaida Cantuba, one of the student speakers at the event.
    Loudoun's Adult Education program encapsulates four similar but distinct programs.

    The first is a GED preparation program, which offers review classes twice a week for two and a half hours for 11 weeks. From there, students take the five-subject General Education Development test.

    The Gateway Program is for students ages 18 to 20 who are unable to graduate due to limited English skills and insufficient credits. The program combines academics, GED preparation and workforce training with language development.

    The Adult High School program is for students who are just one to three credits shy of a high school diploma.

    The Individualized Student Alternative Educational Plan, or ISAEP, is the final program and enables qualifying students ages 16 to 18 to take the GED test. The program meets at Douglass School in Leesburg.

    In total, 43 students received GEDs and four earned high school diplomas.

    But at the June 5 ceremony, all of the programs combined to honor themselves and each other.

    Wendi Manuel-Scott, the director of African American Studies and an associate professor of history and art history at George Mason University, gave the keynote address.

    “Because each and everyone one of you are here, I know you have grit. You have scaled the mountains in front you,” Manuel-Scott told the graduates. “Never be ashamed of the journey you've taken.”

    Despite the unique paths some of the students have taken, they still maintain high goals for themselves.

    “I will be a doctor and no one will tell me differently,” said Margaret “Peggy” Powars, the second of the two student speakers and a graduate of the ISAEP program. Powars's proclamation was met with raucous cheers from the crowd.

    Other students set similar goals for themselves.

    “This is such a step forward in my life,” said 26-year-old Pierre D'Elia of Ashburn. “I've already taken the steps to make my education better. I'm pursuing my associate's degree in business administration and potentially transferring after that to a four-year institution.”

    D'Elia and his fellow students also spoke highly of their respective programs.

    “They actually care about you being successful,” D'Elia. “They help you and use all the tools they have in order to see you become a graduate.”

    Lexie Rood, who graduated from the ISAEP program, had a similar experience.

    “It was either fail out of high school or do this program,” Rood said. “Everyone in the class was going through the same thing you were, so we can all connect. And all the teachers just want to help you.”

    Superintendent Edgar Hatrick concluded the ceremony.

    “For some reason the route you took to get here is a different route. But the important thing about you being here is that you are here,” Hatrick said. “Whatever adversity you experienced did not stop you from being here.”

    Hatrick also told the students to remember the opportunity they had in Loudoun and encouraged them to make sure those opportunities exist wherever they go.

    “In other places, they say it's my way or the highway,” Hatrick said. “We have to accept that different people take different paths to success.”

    For 47 Loudoun students, one path ended and another is beginning.

    Zenaida Cantuba sheds tears while giving one of the graduates' viewpoint speeches during the Adult Education graduation ceremony at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn June 5. --Times-Mirror-Staff Photo/Beverly Denny
    Margaret Powars runs off the stage for a hug after walking at the Adult Education graduation ceremony. Powars also delivered one of the two graduates' viewpoint speeches. --Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny
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