Joan S. Flanery, the retiring longtime director of adult education at Ashland Community and Technical College, presided over one of the events that made her years of working with adults so worthwhile: the annual General Educational Development graduation ceremony.
While 19 GED recipients celebrated the accomplishment with their families, Flanery said 71 students received the high school equivalency credential through ACTC’s Adult Education Program, including six who received perfect scores on the demanding GED test, including three in reading, two in science and one in mathematics.
Sri “Ray-Ray” Lewis, who received a perfect score in math, attended. A native of Indonesia, Lewis earned a two-year associate degree in business from a college in her native country, but wanted to earn a business degree from a college in the United States because of the “higher standards.” Thanks to the transfer of GI benefits earned by her husband while he was in the military, about 70 percent of her college education had been paid for for 36 months.
Learning to take the test in English, her second language, was the greatest challenge in earning her GED. She plans to duplicate the degree she earned in Indonesia.
Lewis was just one of the many success stories at Sunday afternoon’s graduation ceremony on ACTC’s College Drive Campus.
Angela Green, who received her GED through the Adult Education Program two years ago, was the student speaker. She said she became pregnant with her first child at 14 and dropped out of school.
“Who could believe that someone like me, a middle-school dropout, would ever receive a GED and go on to college?” she asked the GED recipients. “Believe me, if I can do it, you can do it.”
Because she had quit school far short of earning her high school diploma, Lewis admits it took a “lot of work and persistence” to earn her GED, but she credits Flanery and adult education teacher Carol Jackson for “believing in me and always encouraging me to keep working.”
Green has completed her associate degree at ACTC, graduating with honors, and will enroll in Morehead State University this fall. Among family members on hand to cheer Lewis Sunday afternoon was the daughter she had at 14. The pride she had in her mother’s achievement was obvious.
Wilma Brown dropped out of high school in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969 because she said racial tensions at the time made her afraid to go to school. More than 25 years later, Brown earned her GED through the Adult Education Program and she attended the graduation to encourage students to continue their education.
“I was 44 when I earned my GED and 50 when I enrolled in nursing school,” Brown said. “I am living proof that you are never too old to improve yourself.”
Brown is a licensed practical nurse at Morning Pointe Ridge Senior Living in Russell.
State Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, was the guest speaker at the graduation. He was first elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1986 at 26, and he has been House majority leader since 2003. He also is a 17-year cancer surviver.
Earning their GEDs is a credit to their “commitment and hard work” in pursing a goal, and he encouraged the recipents to “take advantage of the opportunities before you.”
America became the world’s greatest nation because its people worked hard and were not afraid to “get their feet muddy and their hands dirty” to accomplish something, Adkins said. “You people are following that tradition. Take advantage of the opportunity you have been given.”
When asked if they planned to enroll in college, nearly every GED recipient at the ceremony raised their hand indicating the credential was a milestone, but not the end of their education.
Adkins also presented Flanery with a document signed by Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo and himself honoring her years of dedication to adult education. But the greatest tribute of the day may have come from Green.
“I would not be here today without Joan Flanery,” Green said after the graduation. When work and family obligations made it difficult for Green to continue working toward her GED, “Joan Flanery never gave up on me. She was always there with an encouraging word when I got a little down.”
D.J. Begley of Hazard, administrator of adult education in Region 4, which includes Boyd County, said he does not normally drive more than two hours to attend a GED graduation.
“I’m here today because I knew it would be my last opportunity to thank Joan Flanery for all she had done for adult education in Kentucky.”
The event was Flanery’s last official act as head of the adult program at the college.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2649.