Dozens graduate from Adult Basic Education Programs

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Family and friends gathered Thursday night to share special moments with the dozens of people who graduated Thursday from the Education Department's Adult Basic Education Programs.

The graduates - representing the Adult Secondary Education and the General Educational Development classes - were dressed in burgundy caps and gowns as they marched their way into the Educational Complex Auditorium to the traditional "Pomp and Circumstance."

Guest speakers commended them for making the conscious effort to seek out their high school diploma or GED even years after their own personal circumstances had interrupted their traditional high school careers.

The keynote speaker, University of the Virgin Islands President David Hall, reminded the graduates that the race is not always for the swift, but for those who can endure. He said many finish the race quick without really learning anything or never making any real sacrifices and some never appreciate the true cost of their education.

He urged the graduates to continue their studies at UVI or elsewhere and help alleviate a situation in the territory in which only 19 percent of its adult population has degrees.

Class valedictorian Marcela Browne spoke about her journey toward getting a degree that spanned more than 13 years.

She said that while in high school she got pregnant and opted not to go back to school, but instead started a family and ultimately got married. She said she tried several times to join the continuing education program but always got sidetracked and would not complete the program.

During her address, Browne fought a losing battle to hold back tears that she ultimately allowed to run free as she thanked her mother and mother in-law for never giving up on her and for being there to support her and encourage her throughout the years in school and with helping her raise her children.

"It certainly was not an easy road, I've made mistakes and even made some stupid choices, but you never gave up on me," she told them.

Browne did not speak about it during her address, but she spent several years in prison after being convicted of withholding information from police in connection to the 2007 Christmas Day shooting that her husband former police officer Jeffrey Browne and her bother Luis Melendez were sentenced to life in prison.

Browne said that despite the obstacles she faced, she wanted to be a better example for her children and wanted to make her mother proud.

"I really did it for my mom," she said. "She has four children and I am the first one to graduate, and I know that makes her very proud."

She said she strived to do her best and to complete the program, and being named valedictorian has made her very proud.

Like Browne, salutatorian Lovelinda Davis said she got pregnant in high school and at the age of 16, with a premature baby to take care of, she lacked focus on school.

She said once her baby stabilized and she decided to go back to school, it was too late because she had missed too many days, so she decided to go to night school.

Davis said her attempts were interrupted several times as she had three other unsuccessful pregnancies and later had two more children.

"I got married and continued to focus on my family, but I wanted more for them," she said. "I wanted to make sure that I was going to be an example for my children - now 10, 4 and 3 years old - when I push them to do their best in school."

Davis encouraged fellow graduates to never give up.

She encouraged them to be as deliberate in their journey as a turtle, but remain on course and never be afraid to stand out and stick their neck out for something they believe in.

The GED class speaker was Grethlyn Janette Joseph, who received a diploma at the age of 66. She said she completed her education in her native Antigua more than 40 years ago, but after moving to the territory she realized that she needed to further her education.

"I thought about it several times and never did, but one day I got an invitation to join the program and gladly accepted," she said.

Joseph said if she had listened to the dozens of people who told her that she was too old three years ago or that she was too slow or that she would never complete the program, she would have certainly never started or finished, but she was glad she believed in herself and pushed forward.

She said her children are all grown so she was able to buckle down and focus fully on her studies and has now set her sights on attending UVI this fall.

"I believe in the saying, 'to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave,' " she said.

The members of the class were greeted with thunderous applause as their names were called and they made their way across the stage to receive their diplomas.

The graduates ended the night by the singing their class song "Light Up the Sky." Valedictorian: Marcela Browne

Salutatorian: Lovelinda Davis

GED Speaker: Grethlyn Janette Joseph

Number of High School Diplomas: 76

Total number of GED recipients: 51

GED recipients at the ceremony: 15

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