On the evening of Friday, May 19, graduates from the South Suburban College (SSC) adult education program lined up to walk the final stretch on the end of a long road to receiving a high school diploma. There were a total of 60 graduates for the spring semester of the program, and 13 students attended the commencement ceremony.
Each graduate had a unique story, yet they all shared one stage as they commemorated the end of a profound point in their lives. Some received a high school equivalency diploma (HSE/GED), and others received a diploma for the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. A few graduated with an HSE diploma in a language other than their native language.
HSE/GED graduate Delores Barr spent 44 years dreaming of the day she could walk across the stage and move her tassel. When she was finally in a position to complete her degree, she gave it everything she had. Although a lot had changed since Barr was last in school, her eagerness to learn combined with the help of instructors paved the way for Barr to achieve her goals.
“It's been 44 years since I’ve been in school. Things have changed so much, but I had the whole school to rally behind me and help me through this transition. No matter how many times I asked a question they were always very patient, very understanding, and always encouraged me to keep going to get it done,” Barr said.
Barr was awarded the Theda Hambright scholarship for her hard work and determination during her time at SSC. The announcement of the award was followed by a massive round of applause from her supporters and fellow graduates in the audience. Barr plans to earn an Associate’s degree in applied arts at SSC before moving on to another institution for a Bachelor’s degree.
Keliyah Snow, the 2022 recipient of the Theda Hambright scholarship, was also recognized during the ceremony. Snow completed her GED in December 2021, but was unable to walk across the stage until this year. For her, the degree was an important stepping stone in her path toward law school.
“This is the first step,” Snow said. “I have a knack for law, and I have a knack for justice. To know law is to know another language. If I can break down that language and communicate it with the community, I think I can make a lot of change.”
Earning a diploma was no easy task for Snow. Her high school experience was halted by COVID-19, and she found it difficult to continue without in-person learning. Receiving her HSE/GED through SSC meant that she could finish her high school education in person, just as she had always wanted to.
In addition to her schoolwork, Snow also faced the challenge of losing her mother in 2021. She wore a necklace with a family portrait in remembrance as she crossed the stage to receive her diploma.
“I want to give a shout-out to my mommy. I wish she could be here with me. I'm really thankful to even be able to do this, and I know she would have been really proud too,” Snow said. “I also want to thank God, because I know I wouldn't have made it here if it wasn't for his enduring love. I had so many other things going on in my life that tried to stop me from this moment right here, but he got me here.”
No matter what challenges they may have faced, the graduates were not alone in their struggles. SSC President Lynette D. Stokes spoke of her own struggles while pursuing a career in education. She encouraged the graduates to push through the tough times and to know just how capable they were of achieving the unthinkable.
“If I believed what others said about me I would not be here today as the first black woman president of South Suburban College,” Stokes said.
The SSC faculty was proud to commend the accomplishments of their current and future adult education students by announcing the creation of a scholarship in honor of the late Katie Jackson Booker, who served as an SSC board trustee member for 19 years. Booker’s son, Gregory T. Jackson, spoke on behalf of the family and announced that they would be supplementing the scholarship with $10,000.
The scholarship will be awarded to students who exhibit leadership and community service accomplishments each May. Students who receive the scholarship will be awarded $1,000 toward their tuition for the adult education program.
Although the commencement signified the closing of one door, graduates and faculty members knew that this was only the beginning of a lifetime of achievement for the 60 graduates who persevered in the face of adversity to accomplish greatness.
“It is certainly not easy to have the courage to say ‘I want more out of my life. I must take steps to get back on track.’ All of you decided to take control of your life and legacy by enrolling at South Suburban College. All of you are here tonight because you had a plan for your future, and I promise you, the next journey will open up many doors,” Stokes said.
To learn more about South Suburban College, visit https://www.ssc.edu/.