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A key to the future

General Education degree unlocks doors for students

Dennis Corbin, keynote speaker, is working on becoming a vocational craft laborer.
Don Gilman / Mainstream
Dennis Corbin, keynote speaker, is working on becoming a vocational craft laborer.

She was sick with meningitis. He was a homeless teen. Her bruises were so severe that she dropped out rather than having to face her peers. Others fell into drug abuse or were forced into jobs as teens to support extended families.

The reasons for dropping out of high school are many and varied, but without a GED or diploma, jobs are fewer, and with less pay. Little chance often comes later to finish that education.

“Getting a GED provided a key to open a door I didn’t know was there.”

—Emery Smith, sociology PhD

“You have a much more difficult life without a GED,” Sociology teacher Emery Smith said. Smith, who holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Oregon, knows firsthand how important getting that diploma is. After dropping out of high school at a young age, Smith later took the courses necessary to receive his General Education Diploma.

“Getting a GED provided a key to open a door I didn’t know was there,” Smith said.

Smith was working in a uranium mine when he decided to give school another try. He would finish his shift and then drive 85 miles to the local college. He rarely had time to change out of his work clothes, and often appeared in class covered in dust.

“When I decided to take that one college course, my teacher would acknowledge me with a nod when I came to class. It really empowered me.”

His teacher’s simple act of recognizing Smith’s presence when he arrived and checking to make sure Smith was caught up on his coursework before he left was life-changing.

Smith is not the only one for whom a GED has altered life. UCC recently celebrated the graduation of the most recent group of students to earn their GED or adult high school diploma. A long line of graduates, both young and not-so-young, filled the student center at the college January 24. Many were from the Wolf Creek Job Corp., a government-funded program designed to assist with education and training for 16 to 24 year olds.

According to John Drusik, a UCC GED instructor, the general education diploma provides a new opportunity for many people who have run out of chances. “Students up here [at the Job Corp.] are looking for a change in life. They didn’t complete their education, and for some it is the last house on the block,” Drusik said. “It’s fantastic. In over 24 years, over 3000 students have graduated. It’s exciting.”

Students line up in anticipation to receive their GED.
Don Gilman / Mainstream
Students line up in anticipation to receive their GED.

Graduate Dennis Corbin, 18 years old and a keynote speaker at this year’s graduation, was proud of getting his GED.

“I feel pretty good about myself to be honest,” Corbin said. “I am working on becoming a vocational craft laborer. After that, I plan on moving to Washington and joining a union.”

Tobias Admundson, 16, was more subdued.

“I am happy but more calm now. I plan on doing welding and getting construction training.”

April Hamlin, who has been the director of Adult Basic Skills for a little over a year, was effusive in her praise for the graduates.

“It’s truly one of the best nights of the year. It’s such a celebration. These students have worked so hard, and it’s such a glorious night,” Hamlin said. “They have such a wide range of experiences. A lot of our students plan on going to trade school or to go to college. This is the keystone for them.”

Whether a student’s goal is to acquire a trade vocation, pursue a college degree or simply have access to more jobs, Smith believes a GED or adult high school diploma is one of the most important steps a person can take.

“I would recommend anyone to get their GED. Don’t let age hold you back. No matter how badly you screwed up in high school, go for it. You can’t predict the doors it will open for you.  It just may provide a whole different future. I didn’t realize how many doors it opened. I would have had a much different life without a GED.”