Graduates walking across the stage in the month of May and transitioning into a new chapter of life isn’t a rare occurrence.
Many students from a young age dream of walking across the stage, with their family and friends cheering them on as they receive their diploma. The journey to the moment before crossing the stage can be a long one for many students.
For the graduates who took that walk on May 25 in the Ardmore Convention Center, their journey wasn’t a conventional story.
The Ardmore Literacy Leadership — a collection of area organizations focused on improving literacy in the community — conducted its graduation ceremony honoring students who graduated from English Language classes, GED courses and even two new citizens of the United States. The ceremony was like any other traditional graduation, complete with pomp and circumstance, caps and gowns and a ceremonial walking of the stage to receive a diploma or certificate.
The journeys and stories of those walking, however, are unlike any other.
Leslie Kutz, executive director of Ardmore Family Literacy, said many of the students have pushed through the struggles of life to reach the moment of graduating. Ardmore Family Literacy works with incoming students on earning their GED, with many of the students previously dropping out of school. She said her students — 15 from Ardmore Family Literacy — wouldn’t have missed the ceremony for the world.
“You couldn’t have paid them to miss this graduation,” Kutz said. “They were super excited.”
Ardmore Family Literacy has seen an increase in the number of graduates each year, with the first GED class having three students and this year’s boasting 15 graduates. Kutz attributed the steady increase to the adjustment of the model of the program, with a dedicated math teacher and a change of pace in teaching other aspects of the GED test working better for the students.
Kutz said many of the students who walk into the building — looking to better themselves — expect rejection or a difficult path. Instead, she said often times the students find a sanctuary and environment where their dreams become reality.
“They get in this room with others with similar situations and that’s where they really thrive,” Kutz said.
“They’re able to console each other and learn from each other.”
Kutz said the guest speaker at the ceremony gave a humanizing message about pushing through adversity and highlighted the challenges of being an adult student. The address was filled with a message of strength and the ability to overcome future endeavors.
“As you move on in your next step the process of learning is never over,” Kutz said of the message. “You’re going to have those stresses and same challenge but you faced them once so just bring them on and conquer them again.”
With so many of the students being previous drop outs, Kutz said walking the stage has a special meaning. Reaching a goal that was previously unreachable is unlike anything else and the steps across the stage to be handed their diploma become the most meaningful steps of their life. For some graduates, they potentially represent the first generation to walk the stage, something Kutz said can break the cycle.
“So many of them not only want their kids to see them walk, they want their parents to see them walk,” Kutz said. “They regret dropping out or maybe their parents didn’t walk either so they get to see them accomplish that.”
Kutz said the environment for the graduation is one of pure bliss, with the graduates of every program embracing the impact of their certificate or diploma. Something Kutz said she is particularly proud of is the students drive to continue. While walking the stage for a diploma is a milestone moment, a large majority of the students continue on to college, career tech or another avenue of continued education. Walking the stage not only boosts their confidence, but opens the door to a collection of opportunities, including walking another stage in the future.
“They don’t have to come do it,” Kutz said. “They’re working to be here and want to be here.
“If you want to see real change in the community come see this.”