V.I. Career, Technical and Adult Education Institute — St. Thomas Skill Center graduates 190 student
Published: June 21, 2010
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ST. THOMAS — “You can’t change your past,” Dahlia Adams, principal of V.I. Career, Technical and Adult Education Institute: Ralphael Wheatley Skill Center, told a standing-room-only crowd in the Charlotte Amalie High School auditorium. “But you can surely control your future.”
One hundred and ninety graduates took hold of that future in a ceremony Sunday night.
George Hull Jr., the valedictorian for the High School Diploma Adult Education Program, said he went back to school at the age of 40 to set an example for his children. Hull said that, as a young man, he did not see the value of an education. But now he wants his two sons and his daughter to know that learning is important.
“Everything I do, I do for my family,” he told the crowd in his valedictory speech, delivered on Father’s Day. Hull urged his fellow graduates to stay focused.
“We persevered when others counted us out,” he told them, and urged them to keep pursuing knowledge with a quote attributed to former Harvard University president Derek Bok: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
“No one has written your destiny for you,” Hull told the crowd. “You write your own destiny.”
Jessie Cheatham, who spoke on behalf of the students earning their GED certificates, said she went back to school so that she could take control of that destiny.
“In the summer of 2009, I decided to stop putting my life on hold,” she said. “Now I have more opportunities in the job market to do what I want to do, instead of what I have to do.
You’re never too old and it’s never too late to have a better future,” she told the crowd.
High School Diploma Adult Education Program salutatorian Gregory Reed Jr. laid out a road map to that future in his speech Sunday night. Reed urged fellow graduates to find something they are passionate about, then to surround themselves with the smart, honest people who will push them toward their goals and “find the courage” to pursue challenging tasks.
Keynote speaker Racquel Berry Benjamin — a ninth-grade dropout who was pregnant at 15, but now holds two masters degrees in education from the University of the Virgin Islands — told the graduates that she understands the challenges they have already overcome.
“Like many of you, I didn’t have the picture-perfect upbringing,” she said, but added that “from a very young age, I wanted to experience a life different from what I knew as normal.”
Benjamin said that she grew up in a housing project and her father struggled with an addiction to drugs that kept him in and out of jail. Although she was an honor roll student in grade school, Benjamin said that she was “introduced to the streets at an early age.”
By the time she was 16, Benjamin had a daughter and no high school diploma.
“I was upset and disappointed with myself,” she said. “I had let my mom down twice.”
So she became determined to turn her life around and “made a decision never to get distracted again.”
Benjamin told the crowd that she was proud of her past — proud of her father for overcoming his addiction to become an integral part of her family’s life; proud of her relationship with her husband, the high school boyfriend who impregnated her at 15 and stuck by her side ever since; and proud of herself for not being satisfied with the life she found herself living at 16.
“Had I not tried, had I given up on life, then I would have something for which to be ashamed,” she said, and told graduates that “we are living proof that every goal that has ever been reached was one step at a time.”
William Mills, a 29-year-old who was honored Sunday night for earning his GED, said he took that first step for his fiance, Rashida Forbes.
“I told him he couldn’t have me unless he went back to school,” Forbes said with a sly, proud smile as she stood by Mills’ side after the ceremony.
Mills, who works as a shift supervisor for Advanced Security, said that he plans to study forensic science at the University of the Virgin Islands.
“No more holding back,” he said. “I am going to try to do the best I can.”
Laughton Thibou, a 45-year-old construction worker who earned his GED, said that he went back to school because he wanted to do something different with his life. Thibou posed for pictures with his family and friends after the ceremony, flashing a proud “thumbs-up” at the camera.
“I did this because the world is changing, and you need an education to cope with this ever-changing world,” he said.
Beatriz Nieves was surrounded by her five children, who smiled at the camera and flashed dozens of photos as they each, in turn, posed for a picture with their mother. A single mom, Nieves was awarded both a EKG Technician certification and a Phlebotomy Technician certification through the V.I. Career, Technical and Adult Education Institute this year — while also working toward an associate’s degree in criminal justice online.
Asked why she pushed has pushed herself so hard, Nieves quickly replied “For my kids — to become a role model for them.”
V.I. Career, Technical and Adult Education Institute Class of 2010
Adult Education High School Diploma Program
Valedictorian: George Hull Jr.
Salutatorian: Gregory Reed Jr.
GED Certificates awarded this year: 63
GED Representative: Jessie Cheatham
Career and technical certificates
Clinical medical assisting: 20
Phlebotomy technician: 10
Computer applications: 10
Medical administration assisting: 6
Culinary arts: 5
Personal care services: 5
Auto mechanic: 3
Architectural drafting: 1