Celebrating Student Success and Stakeholder Impact

2018 Graduation Speeches

Senator Sandra Williams, 21st District

Good evening everyone! I am excited to be here today to celebrate your incredible achievement.

Today you can look at yourself in the mirror and say I DID THIS. Whether you have met all requirements to receive your High School Equivalency certificate or you met part of the requirements and are still working on the others. You made a huge decision and stuck with it and accomplished something that so many others, for whatever reason, set out to do but failed to make it to the finish line.

When I first ran for office, I asked State Representative Dale Miller for his endorsement. He said, “Before I endorse you I need to know if you have the ‘fire in your belly.’” In other words he wanted to know that I was serious about taking on such an overwhelming task and, that by any means necessary, I was going to achieve my goal. Needless to say, I did have the fire in my belly and I won! And tonight I’m so proud of you for what you’ve accomplished —-because you’ve proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that you have the “fire in your belly.”

You believed in yourself, you were not discouraged when they told you how long it might take. You didn’t quit when people told you it was impossible. When they told you NO or when they asked why you would put yourself through such a task, you continued to push forward——you had discipline.

The average person would have given in to that pressure. But you are not the average. You wanted it and you did what you needed to do to get where you wanted to go! So Congratulations.

To the 200+ Seeds of Literacy Volunteer tutors, one of my favorite quotes is “To the world you may be one person but to one person you may be the world.”

You may never know the profound effect that you may have made on a person’s life. A kind word, a listening ear, an extra explanation or push can mean so much to someone who is struggling. You generously gave your gift of time to make contact, provide support and encouragement and perhaps humor to make this educational journey a bit more bearable.

You gave of yourself and brought with you your life experiences, skills, abilities, compassion, intellect, asking for nothing in return. You volunteer for many different reasons —-but for whatever reason —-you volunteer. You provided the skills, talents and abilities to give someone else hope and strength and the courage to face another day of this journey.

Please know that your hard work does not go unnoticed, we all genuinely appreciate and value your commitment of time to volunteering with Seeds of Literacy and for this—we thank you.

I want to also give a special shout out to the family members and friends in the room. What I know from my own personal experiences is that MOST of your family and friends who really care about you are the rocks that you lean on. When you complained, for example, that the new math and English that they teach now isn’t what you learned in high school and was too hard, they were the folks you leaned on. When you complained about being taken out of your comfort zone, they were the ones who lifted you up. When you thought about throwing in the towel, they were the ones who encouraged you to keep pushing. People, who want the best for you, want you to be your best. So continue to surround yourself with these people who will fill your cup with all that you need —-until your cup runneth over. Please join me in recognizing all the family and friends here today.

So NOW What? You’ve achieved this lofty goal but what are you going to do with it? This new credential gives you power. And there are so many opportunities in this world – the possibilities are endless. If you’ve already retired, you might consider volunteering somewhere in the community, possibly tutoring or mentoring. If you’re in between jobs, you might consider taking advantage of the over 6,000 job opportunities available right here in Northeast Ohio, most of them don’t require a four year degree. Some of you may want to continue your education at a two year or four year college, and some may want to seek a certificate in an in demand job. If you have other sections of the GED to complete, keep at it! All those are good options and you now have the power to make those decisions.

In the words of the motivational speaker, George Frasier, and I’m paraphrasing, “The world is not waiting for us to wake up to our power…Its time for us to take a seat at the table not just in Cleveland or America, but in the global economy.”

Each and every one of you has the potential for enormous success. In order to have success you have to have some goals, daily, monthly, yearly goals and sometimes hourly. Each and every day is an opportunity for us to create a new and powerful story. In other words, fully tap into your potential, no matter how old you are and take advantage of all of the endless possibilities that exist.

I’m a member of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, where I serve as an usher. I’m always amazed that when people have seen me ushering, they are so surprised. Most people say, “I can’t believe A STATE SENATOR ushers in the church.” I always reply,” but for GOD, or whoever your higher power is, I wouldn’t have this job.”

I’ll close with something that I heard Denzel Washington say, “I pray that tonight, you put your slippers way under the bed, so that when you wake up in the morning, you’ll have to get on your knees to get them. And while you’re down there SAY THANK YOU FOR GRACE AND MERCY AND FOR ALLOWING ME TO FULFILL ONE OF MY DREAMS!”

To the high school equivalency graduates, section passers, continuing students, and volunteers congratulations on this remarkable achievement!

Latasha Jenkins, Graduate

I dropped out of high school when I had my first child. Two years later, I had a second child. I was a stay-at-home mom. At one point, I worked three jobs.

In 2003, I went to the doctor and discovered I was legally blind. It made me think back to my high school years and how I struggled and was embarrassed to raise my hand or sit in the front of the class. So, dropping out wasn’t as hard of a decision for me, having a child just made it that much easier.

Fast-forward to 2013, I decided to sign up for school. I had just gotten married, my family expanded from three to five. So I was really trying to figure out my way to being a good role model and example for my children. At that point, I allowed everyone else’s problems and whatever they were going through in life to weigh on me. So school wasn’t my top priority. Some weeks I would be here for two weeks strong, then fall off for a little while, then come back.

I let everyone else and what they were going through weigh so heavy on me, I would let whatever they were stressing out about stress me out. I really gave to the people in my life.

Fast forward to 2017, I was going through the worst time in my life when I signed back up for school. I had just separated from my ex-husband and made the decision to file for a divorce, my father was dying of cancer, I was moving my family into a two-bedroom apartment, but I finally had someone who was pushing me to stop being pulled down by the toxicity in my life. He really challenged me to focus on me, he was in my ear every day. We fasted together, we prayed together. From the worst, this brought out my best.

I was able to get a manager position at my job in my first year at Giant Eagle, with no high school diploma. Finally, I could work on school without everything distracting me. I was drained from those who asked so much of me.

I came back to school as much as I could. I was balancing this with my job, which was really hard to learn. But I had a sense of confidence now. I had someone special telling me to have confidence in myself. He told me to stop using my disability as a crutch.

I started taking the tests in the Spring, and I started knocking them down. I had to take a couple of them twice, but I wasn’t going to let those slow me down. 2018 was turning out to be the best year of my life. On May 10th, I took the final section of the GED, it was Science.

That day was so emotional for me. After I took the test, I was on my way home. I’m checking and checking, but no scores yet. It kept showing the score from a week prior. When I finally got the picture of the person in the graduation cap, I started to cry in the bus shelter and walking back and forth. I was so overjoyed that it was over. I was trying to think about who to call first. It was like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. It was something I could be proud of, something I could tell my children about, that I could show them what comes from hard work and comes from going to school.

So I was so excited to close all those bad chapters and start the new chapters of the best years of my life, which is yet to come. My life has done a 180. I got a chance to go to Las Vegas for a week, I’m headed out of the country. I am living.

My next step is Tri-C, where business management is for me. It’s a lot of footwork, but I have started the process, but I’m on the last step, new student orientation and choosing my classes. I know it’s going to be hard, but I don’t think it’s going to be nearly as hard as getting my GED. I think it’s going to need more work and more dedication, but it’s not going to be as hard. And no matter what, I’m ready. I’ve kicked in so many doors, so now I’m ready to knock the rest of them down.

Dionne Lobban, Graduate

After returning from vacation in Jamaica in March of 2017, I had an epiphany that my life here in the US is not the way I want it to be. Again I thought about doing the GED because I just couldn’t seem to get ahead without it. The timing was perfect because I could finally make the orientation time here at Seeds. It had always been an issue for me since I work in the afternoon.

I started with Seeds in the spring of last year, after being in another program that just wasn’t addressing my needs. Seeds, for me, was ideal because I was able to learn at my own pace. My tutors—OMG—they were all awesome!

Just to mention a few: Anna, she took me on like her own child at home. For the Social Studies, she would copy the information to take home to read & better engage me in discussion and ensure I was understanding the material. Science we learned together as if she was also taking the exam. Language and Reading being my worst subject, she was my number 1 motivator. Those winks and thumbs up meant a lot. Thank you, Anna. D

Dr. Steve and Dolores made Math seem too easy. Their patience is beyond measure. I needed their patience because there were many times when I had a mental block or probably a brain freeze. The doctor knew just how to get around it. Ed, the all-rounder made such a difference. The TI-30XS calculator was like me going to a new place without knowing how to use the map. John with his calculator class changed all of that. He turned those complicated instruments into toys. The real life math examples made it so much easier. Diane gave me a rubric for the essay and without it I would not have been able to pass.

Kara crazyyy, “you can do it,” she said it so often I had no choice but to believe it and start working towards it.

My fellow classmates, I don’t know what kind of eyes you have or something wrong with my glasses, but they all believed in me; they saw what I didn’t or couldn’t see in me. I still can’t see it clearly but I do believe I am on my way to my destiny.

I have mixed feelings about leaving Seeds, happy because I am one step closer to my career goal, sad because I enjoyed every moment. I do intend to come back and volunteer. The staff was accommodating; they were willing to address every need. The ones they weren’t able to do personally, they found a way or somebody or another organization who could. Tom and Todd thank you; you were very helpful.

I know by now you would have recognized my accent. Yes, I am Jamaican, the land with the most beautiful beaches and the best food (jerk pork, curry chicken, and ackee & saltfish, just to name a few). Wow, look at the watering mouths; if it’s that good, then you wonder why I’m here in Cleveland. My parents & siblings have been living here for over 25 years; I wasn’t willing to make that move but after having my son, life was about him not me. The opportunities here are far greater than back home, especially now that I have my GED. So I had to move in search of a better life for him. On May 19th, he graduated from John Hay Early College with 28 college credits and will be going to Kent State to do pre-med. We both will be starting college in the fall.

Since finishing my GED in December 2017, I am now a Phlebotomist Technician and about to start the RN program at Tri-C and plan to do some counseling, too. I have a passion for the youth. The youths of today need to be redirected. We have to do something about the future of this country and it doesn’t look bright with the behavior/attitude of the youths today.

The route to lasting success is education. Success is earned not a matter of mere luck. I don’t want you to think of success as wealth or material gains; it’s all based on your goals. Yes, you have to set goals. If you don’t know where you are going then you won’t figure out how to get there.

My fellow graduates and section passers, you are on the road to success. Stick to your plan (which is useless if it’s only in your head). So put some action into it. Reach for the stars…the sky is the limit. Never forget to make God part of your plan. Thank you!