Desmond Vaird says he is on cloud nine after being selected as the Technical College System of Georgia's 2016 Adult Education Student of the Year.
Exceptional Adult Georgian in Literacy Education (EAGLE) honors were presented March 16 by Gov. Nathan Deal, TCSG Commissioner Gretchen Corbin and Beverly Smith, TCSG assistant commissioner for adult education, during an event at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Atlanta.
Vaird, who was selected by a panel of judges from business and education, will receive a full scholarship to the technical college of his choice. In addition, his fees and books will be paid for through a stipend from the Brenda Wise Scholarship Fund, established in 2014 in memory of Brenda Wise, a lifelong supporter of adult education.
Over the coming year, Vaird will travel the state as Georgia's EAGLE ambassador for adult education, speaking to students, civic groups, legislators and others about lifelong learning and the importance of earning a GED credential.
Never in a million years would oldest of seven children born to a drug-addicted mother in North Carolina think that the direction of his life would have changed so dramatically - for the good. Raised by his grandmother who instilled in him integrity, honesty and the importance of education, Vaird's road to EAGLE honors was anything but smooth.
His inspiring story makes him a perfect spokesman for the value of education and the fact that "drugs and alcohol have no place in success."
He tells his story on a video which can be seen on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dt04DsqZstk.
"I began hanging around the wrong crowd and didn't really know how I was around the same time my grandma passed away," said Vaird. "I turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the hurt, pain and guilt."
Her lifelong wish was for him to complete his education and live a good life and he had disappointed her when at age 16 he dropped out of school in 2003.
His journey down the wrong path would continue for more than a decade.
"It was 11 long years of mental and physical suffering before I realized ‘enough is enough is enough' and I deserved better," said Vaird. "I remembered what my grandma taught me: the true meaning of integrity; the true meaning of honesty; and how important an education was for me."
On Sept. 4, 2014, he enrolled into The Potter's House, a long-term, Christ-centered, residential discipleship program for chemically addicted men located in Jefferson. He soon learned the program required men without a high school diploma to take GED classes through Lanier Technical College. He was inspired to learn.
"I knuckled down," said Vaird, who earned his GED in March of 2015 and then enrolled in college courses at Lanier Tech with a goal of becoming an elementary school teacher.
"The GED came so early that I knew it came from God" and he saw a way to become a servant leader at The Potter's House to encourage and advise other men in the program.
His story of overcoming the obstacles of being a high school dropout, drug addict and alcoholic to become a college student and a servant leader at Potter's House is inspiring.
"This is a great opportunity, a platform to continue what I'm doing," said Vaird. "I want to give back and encourage others to as a tribute to my grandmother for her years of being a mother to me."
No longer a statistic because communities invest in educational programs such as the GED program, Vaird's journey is continuing.
"I have changed the legacy that I will leave for my future students and children," said Vaird.
He was selected as the statewide winner among the 26 local EAGLE winners from the TCSG colleges, school systems or local authority that delivers adult education and GED programs.
The runner-up for the adult education student of the year is Justin Bates from Georgia Piedmont Technical College. Winner of the "Spirit" award is Jacqueline Guzman from Central Georgia Technical College.
Almost 500 guests applauded the students for overcoming obstacles that once stood in the way of their education and then excelling in the classroom while preparing for their GED credential.
At the banquet, Gov. Deal said, "Each and every one educated adult plays an important part in our workforce and in securing our state's economic future.
These bright, motivated students are a shining example of the power of adult education to change lives, not only their own but those of others whom they inspire through their commitment and perseverance."
Now in its 23rd year, the system's EAGLE Award acknowledges the outstanding accomplishments of Georgians who enroll in the TCSG's adult education programs in order to study for and earn their GED® credential.
More than 44,000 men and women took part in Georgia's adult education programs last year. Each March, the local EAGLE winners are the guests of a three-day conference in Atlanta that ends with a lunch banquet in their honor.