Dozens of General Education Development certificate recipients celebrated the accomplishment in a downtown Phoenix graduation ceremony Thursday evening.
The ceremony at Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus was hosted by the non-profit Chicanos Por La Causa Community Center and ASU’s Educational and Outreach Student Services.
The graduates ranged from 17 years old to retirement age, said Sandra Gonzales, program manager for the community center.
Gonzales said it was important to plan a ceremony because the graduates deserve to be publicly recognized for their hard work to earn their GED, a high-school equivalency certificate awarded upon passing a comprehensive test.
“To work so hard to get something in the mail, it’s tough,” Gonzales said. “So for me, it was a priority.”
All of the graduates have been resilient in pursuing their education despite facing obstacles, such as working multiple jobs or caring for a family at home, Gonzales said.
“Some of them have worked all day in the sun and then have to come and sit in a class,” Gonzales said. “I have some that work the night shift, the second shift, the third shift and then come see me in the morning.”
Graduate Antonio Diaz is one of those students. He said it was tough pursuing his education while caring for his wife and two daughters and working two jobs.
“I work construction, and it was really hard because it gets hot out here, like 110 (degrees),” Diaz said. “I get home, take a quick shower and then go to school and she’s (Diaz’s daughter) like, ‘Are you really going?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m really going.’ “
Diaz said his daughter is one of the biggest reasons why he started pursuing his GED last year, because he noticed she wasn’t doing well in school.
“That kinda pushed me into ‘I gotta show her that we can do it’ and kinda like to be an example for her that everything is possible, and I did it,” Diaz said.
Diaz said since he started pursuing his GED, his daughter has improved her grades.
Diaz said he’s not sure if he’ll start higher education immediately, but said he eventually might apply to attend ASU.
‘What do I do with it now?’
Manuel Leal spoke at Thursday’s event, having just graduated from ASU last week with a degree in secondary education after receiving his GED in 1994.
After earning his GED, Leal joined Americorps and soon after joined the Navy, serving two combat tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan and one around Africa.
Leal said he decided to pursue higher education a few years ago because he wanted to continue to help others.
“I’ve always been serving since I earned my GED, so I decided one way to give back was to teach other students like myself,” Leal said.
Leal said he hoped to inspire graduates to make the most of their GED.
“I hope to encourage them to make a decision and to decide, ‘Now what do I do?’ ” he said. “Answer the question ‘What do I do with it now?’ because a GED is just a piece of paper if you do nothing with it.”
Chicanos Por La Causa spokeswoman María Jesús Cervantes said the organization’s GED program supports students in pursuing their education by providing things like child care and courses in Spanish.
“The idea is trying to eliminate as many barriers as possible so they can finish their basic education but consider pursuing higher education as well,” Cervantes said.
Cervantes said all of the graduates are “absolutely different” but that they all have one thing in common.
“If there’s anything that unites them it’s a desire to provide economic impact, demonstrate overcoming barriers to reach goals and demonstrating to others that it’s possible to finish their education and finish what they started,” Cervantes said.
Leal said no matter what their path is, it’s important that graduates use their GED as a steppingstone to improve their lives.
“My path was the National Civilian Community Corps (part of Americorps), work, then I joined the military and served my country several times, and once I got out I found myself in college,” Leal said. “Their path is theirs to walk, as long as they walk it.”
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