Whether by choice or by factors beyond their control, some students never complete high school. The Rend Lake College GED Class of 2010 is a testament to the fact that it's never too late to change that.
Thursday night, 21 students earned their GEDs during graduation ceremonies held at the Rend Lake College Theatre, and 14 students were inducted into the National Adult Education Honor Society. Barbara Freels of Benton, a member of the GED class, gave one of two keynote addresses.
"We all started with the same goal of getting a GED, and tonight that goal has been met," Freels told her classmates. "Life can throw us many curve balls, some good, some bad. What we make of our opportunities defines who we are. The old saying, 'It's never too late,' was written for us tonight."
Freels was a successful high school student, but by her junior year, she began ditching classes and "hanging out with the wrong crowd," she said. In her senior year, she signed the papers to quit school - one credit short of meeting the graduation requirements.
Soon after, Freels was married and had two daughters, but a couple of years later she was divorced. She said searching for a job was difficult without a high school diploma. However, she eventually found work with Our Directions, a facility in Herrin which works with developmentally disabled adults. These adults work at a thrift store called Helen Honeys, just across from the park in Herrin, with all the proceeds going to the DD adults. The employees go through donations, clean them up, tag them and sell them to the public for a small donation. The donations go to a paycheck for the employees, allowing them to earn an income.
"I finally found my place," said Freels. She held up a piece of white paper which all of her "peeps" had signed, and said, "This means more to me than any diploma or degree. They inspire me."
Freels works as a job coach for the DD adults, but said therein lay the contradiction. "How can I tell them, 'This is your goal,' when I haven't yet met my goals?" she asked. Eventually, her job required that she earn her GED, and that began the path which ultimately led her to Thursday's ceremony.
"May your new path take you where you want to go and also bring you pleasant surprises," Freels told her classmates.
A second keynote was given by Peggy Davis, English Literature Associate Professor at Rend Lake College, who earned her GED in 1986 at the age of 30. She graduated from RLC with an associate degree two years later, then went on to earn a Bachelor's Degree in English and a Master's Degree in Creative Writing, both from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She is now a tenured instructor who teaches English, Literature, Creative Writing, Mythology and more at the college level.
Davis said she officially quit school at the age of 16, but was drawn to get her GED when she lost her job. "It may have been the best thing that ever happened to me," Davis said. She said the experience of earning her GED was not without stress and "grit your teeth" moments, but added that "as you keep growing, you'll find that you keep having to grit your teeth."
She likened it to her later experience of flying to Minnesota while dealing with her fear of heights. She was traveling with a group of people as part of a grant for The Big Read, a program aimed at encouraging people to read books. She said she dealt with her fear in small steps: looking out the window at the clouds below, looking out at the wing of the plane. She has since flown repeatedly, including a trip to England, where she taught Illinois students studying at Canterbury Christ Church University.
"I never would have been able to experience any of that if I had not come back for my GED," Davis said.
Graduates of Rend Lake College's GED program are: Amanda L. Adams (Belle Rive), Angelo Bustamante (Opdyke), Alejandro F. Delgado (Benton), Barbara A. Freels (Benton), Jo Jo Gilbertson (Woodlawn), Katelyn R. Hammons (Mt. Vernon), Coty Hampton (Mt. Vernon), Brittnie M. Heise (Mt. Vernon), Vincent Justice (Mt. Vernon), Wanda J. Kandal (Benton), N. Chris Lively (Pinckneyville), Erica L. Manley (Bluford), Maria Marshall (Mt. Vernon), Brittany McKinney (Mt. Vernon), Andrew L. Overbey (Mt. Vernon), Stewart Phyfiher (Mt. Vernon), Casey L. Settle (Ina), Matthew T. Settle (Ina), Tina M. Spani (Benton), Sandee Thompson (McLeansboro) and Kathy Jo Tucker (Benton).
Also Thursday, several students were recognized as new members of the National Adult Education Honor Society: Joseph Armes (Benton), LeShawn Davis (Mt. Vernon), Alejandro Delgado (Benton), Nikki Dubs (Mt. Vernon), Vicente James Garcia (Mt. Vernon), Katelyn Hammons (Mt. Vernon), Brittnie Heise (Mt. Vernon), Leea Johnson (Mt. Vernon), Wanda Kandal (Benton), Andrew Overbey (Mt. Vernon), Ray Renfrow (Benton), Kelsey Scholebo (Pinckneyville), Gary Williams (Opdyke) and Taccara Young (Mt. Vernon).