More than 800 GED students graduated from Lanier Technical College’s Adult Education Program on Friday night, the school’s largest number yet.
“This year we have 860 students from all eight counties and last year we had 788, so we’re excited about the increase,” said Brenda Thomas, associate vice president for adult education. “It’s hard to increase when you get this large because it means you have to keep doing better than what you’re doing.”
Hundreds of students from Banks, Barrow, Dawson, Forsyth, Fulton, Hall, Jackson and Lumpkin counties walked across the stage at Free Chapel.
“With the economy, people are seeking to further their education because the world has changed with workplace and job requirements,” she said. “Students need more credentials and skills.”
Hall County had 240 graduates this year, up from 215 last year. Hall has the fifth largest enrollment in the state for GED and English as a Second Language programs after metro Atlanta counties Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett, Thomas said.
“We have several adult education programs, and one helps students who have a language barrier to learn English to obtain their GEDs,” she said. “We also have a transition adviser in each county to help students go into the next frontier, and most go on to technical college within a few years.”
About 25 percent of last year’s graduates have started college, she said. The transition advisers often help when students don’t understand the college application process.
“A lot of their families didn’t finish high school, let alone apply to college,” Thomas said. “We put a lot of energy and effort into this idea that GED graduation isn’t the end but the beginning to your next level of education.”
Ron Jackson, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia, was the keynote speaker. He shared personal anecdotes and why he never turns down an invitation to a GED graduation.
“We have 1.3 million Georgians over age 18 who don’t have a high school diploma,” he said. “That huge number means we have a lot of work to do. A GED graduation is one of the most inspiring things I get to do in this job because despite many life reasons that cause people to drop out of high school, these students have come to the realization they had to turn it around.”
Jackson emphasized Thomas’ main point: Don’t stop here.
“They’ve proven to themselves that they’re capable of passing the tough GED test to get this diploma in order to improve their lives,” he said. “If they go on and keep learning, they’re going to change the lives of their families and communities forever. We must stay in the mode of learning every day and earn more credentials.”
Jackson said he’s most proud of students who overcome a stigma to further their education.
“They overcame the stigma about people who don’t have a high school diploma and walked through the door and said they wanted to get a GED,” he said. “To admit that, even to family, is tough. People are sitting in the audience who didn’t want their kids to know they didn’t have a diploma. Sometimes it’s hard to find those people, so it takes a whole community to reach out and encourage.”