Golden Oak graduates celebrate and prepare for their next steps
Veronica Gonzalez, 39, didn’t think she could do it.
She spent a lot of time in a cycle: getting herself and her daughter up, rushing to the bus stop, leaving for work the moment her daughter was on her way to school.
Then she would return after work to the same spot to pick up her daughter and go home.
But the day finally came: Gonzalez was one of 20 students who walked across the stage and received her GED diploma on Friday at Hart High School’s auditorium as part of Golden Oak Adult School’s graduation ceremony.
“I’m so happy because a lot of people think that this can’t be possible. But even with many obstacles, anything can be done,” Gonzalez said.
Ernesdina Ramirez was in attendance to support her friend Gonzalez. Ramirez said she works near the school bus stop where Gonzalez drops off her daughter each day.
“I admire her so much. She’s my hero, and oh my gosh, I want to cry,” Ramirez said. “I can’t believe she did it while also completing her CNA [certified nursing assistant program].”
Nelson Flores, another graduate, said this moment is the most excited he has been in a long time.
“It’s a pretty big deal. Often life takes priority and school [an education] becomes second,” Flores said. “It [getting my GED] is something that I want to make sure I did for my family. I’m definitely looking forward to the future and continuing my studies.”
Flores thanked the staff at Golden Oak for helping him accomplish this goal, and also encouraged others to take that step and pursue their education.
“I am like a proud parent,” said Donna Manfredi, principal of Golden Oak. “It is the greatest thing that we can do for someone, is to help them get their education. These people have finally claimed that and I’m so proud of them.”
Manfredi said her students’ ages range from 18 to 60 years old. Many adults have challenges such as confidence, being a single parent or other reasons, which may impact their decision to pursue their education.
“We know they’re coming back to school after a period of time and taking on a challenge that has been a dream in their heart. We have to work real hard to ensure that they keep up a level of confidence and persevere,” Manfredi said.
Sometimes language can pose a barrier, too, according to Manfredi. Golden Oak offers the traditional method of obtaining a GED and the HiSET, which is an equivalent certification to the GED. Students can choose to pursue their education in their language too.
“We are one of the few adult schools to offer a HiSET program in Spanish, and so on, and it takes that challenge off the table for them to have to keep thinking in terms of English and allow them to be taught in their home language,” Manfredi said.
As part of the ceremony, Manfredi read aloud poet Alberto Rio’s “A House Called Tomorrow,” which is a poem about hope and looking forward to the future regardless of any past failure or mistakes.
Graduates also received a small hot-air balloon pin, and were tasked with their final assignment – to write a letter to the person who helped them the most to achieve their dream.
Manfredi noted there were 39 graduates, but only 20 chose to participate in the ceremony.
“It might have taken them a little longer, but they are here and they are claiming it [their education] for themselves and their families,” Manfredi said. “That’s also an important lesson for their children. It is never too late.”