At Thursday’s commencement for Keene Community Education’s Alternative Diploma Program, Molly Kelly, keynote speaker and a former state senator, told the graduates to take ownership of their achievement and move forward with pride.
“From this day forward, you have something that brightens that light inside you,” Kelly said. “[The education] belongs to you, and it is yours forever. It is now a part of who you are, and you will take it wherever you go.”
The Alternative Diploma Program provides a different pathway to a high-school diploma, including for older adults who may have dropped out of high school as teenagers, according to Victoria Farrington, director of Keene Community Education.
This year’s graduates include Nicholas Aguiar, Felicity Buffum, Jazmyn Calareso, Lexi Carpenter, Chelsea Cox, Sheryl Cummings, Nicholas Dadmun, Rylan Hogancamp, Aiden Lincoln, Hannah Magoon, Devenear Sanders, Kaycee Slocum, Jessica Spencer, Anya Supernor, Evan Uvena and Khloe Wheeler.
Seven students attended Thursday’s ceremony in the Keene Middle School auditorium.
Spencer, 34, of Keene, was presented with the Betty Cox Award, named for a local literacy advocate. The award is sponsored by the Cheshire County Literacy Coalition and is given to a student who demonstrates outstanding achievement and commitment in earning their high-school diploma.
As a teenager, Spencer said she struggled with mental illness and couldn’t stay in school. This program gave her a second chance at learning and completing her education.
“I was able to experience what I should have as a teenager and have real classes with people,” Spencer said.
She recently completed an internship working in child care at Cedarcrest Center for Children with Disabilities in Keene and said she has a job waiting for her there doing similar work now that she has finished the diploma program. She hopes to become a licensed nursing assistant.
“Don’t give up. Your education is important, and it makes you feel good,” Spencer said. “I love the teachers here, and I’m very happy I was able to do it.”
The Charlie Burns Award made its debut this year and was given to Sheryl Cummings. Burns was the longest-serving principal at Keene High School — 16 years — and a key player in expanding Keene Community Education, Farrington said.
Cummings, of Fitzwilliam, said that due to a learning disability, she’s had difficulty passing the GED in the past, but is proud she stuck with the program and was able to receive her high-school diploma.
“There should be more funding for this program, and people should know about it more,” Cummings, 50, said. “It’s a really good program.”
Part of the Keene School District, Keene Community Education serves residents from many area towns and offers English language lessons, high-school completion courses and training and licensing in gas service and the electrical and plumbing trades.
Farrington, who has been the director for two years, said the work Keene Community Education does is important because it helps people who have told themselves, “I can’t do it.”
“[Students] face their fear and have courage to press on, and we help them do that.”
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