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Norwich - For many Norwich Regional Adult Education students, a common theme has prevented them from getting their high school diplomas in the traditional time frame - "Life got in the way."
On Thursday, life obligations paused for most of the 84 graduates in three adult education programs, long enough for them to don the maroon caps and gowns and hear the applause and cheers of proud family members and friends at the Jacqueline Owens Auditorium at Kelly Middle School.
But for some, life continued to get in the way. Mandy Zhong, winner of the Faculty Award, could not attend Thursday's commencement ceremony, because he had to work.
Kashmere Kornegay knows that theme all too well. Kornegay, awarded with the John M. Moriarty Award and the Marie A Peloquin Scholarship, told fellow graduates that when she quit high school and enrolled in adult education at age 16, she knew "school wasn't a priority for me."
She enrolled in some adult education classes and earned a few credits before dropping out. Mostly, she said, work always won out in the competition between school and job.
Last September, that changed. Kornegay decided "to give school my all." Her teachers were encouraging but a bit skeptical that she could succeed by taking daytime, evening and online courses at the same time. She earned straight As.
"I proved to myself I can do anything," Kornegay said.
Fellow class speaker Devin Douglas told the audience that when he dropped out of high school two years ago, he told himself he would go back right away. That didn't happen. He watched his friends graduate and move on. His brother entered college. That was enough to motivate Douglas.
"I'm not saying I'm the best role model, but getting an education and seeing my family here smiling is the best reward," he said.
Perhaps the biggest applause of the night went to Jo-Ann Boyce, a credit diploma graduate who earned the Joseph B. Murphy Award for commitment to lifelong learning. Boyce left Norwich Free Academy in 1996 and entered adult education.
She earned a half-credit before dropping out. Repeating that pattern over the next few years, she earned a half-credit here and a credit there, but never making much progress toward the 21 credits needed for a high school credit diploma in the adult education program.
Finally, in 2011, she earned passing grades in four courses. A year later, Boyce showed her teachers a new focus, earning straight As for the 2012-13 school year en route to Thursday's graduation.
At the start of the ceremony, Adult Education Director Mary Berry brought recent major tragedies into the auditorium, recalling that so many deadly events were perpetrated by desperate loners or by young people who joined violent causes or groups to infamous ends.
Turning to her graduates, Berry extolled the strong support network they have experienced, whether young or old, fat or thin, U.S. citizen or immigrant. She said classmates picked up one another when needed and encouraged one another to succeed.
"Your choices you have made make a difference, not only for you but for the Norwich community," Berry said.
2013 High School Credit Diploma Program - Norwich Board of Education Diploma
Nere Astre, Torin M. Bapst, Annspeter Bel, Jo-Ann P. Boyce, Kathleen P. Cassel, Michael A. Delcore, Devin R. Douglas, Nicole A. Dow, Wesley W. Flanders, Tylon C. Flowers, David Gamboa-Bordenave, Jonathan G. Gomez, Madison P. Hatch, Destinee P. Hillyer, Sienna R. Hinze, John J. Holland, Harold L. Hull, Matyse A. Julien, Crystal L. Kennison, Kashmere Kornegay, Gregory J. Lalumiere, Edward R. Leighton, Derrin K. McKnight-Carter, Caitlin J. McMahon, Jeremy M. Novoa, Dana N. Petrowski, Kaitlin M. Pires-Daniels, Berta M. Puello-Martinez, Matthew D. Ramos, Lisa M. Ritz, Nicole R. Robinson, Carmelo R. Rodriguez, Julio A. Rodriguez, Brandon G. Sanquedolce, Andrew T. Senuta, Michele E. Silva, Alana B. Sims-Cleckley, Tayler M. Sperry, Mathew N. Stevenson, Anna C. Timken, Mandy Zhong.
2013 National External Diploma Program - Norwich Board of Education Diploma
Karlos X. Rodriguez and Melissa A. Souther
2013 GED Program - State of Connecticut Diploma
Jerrold P. Allyn Jr., Pierre A. Bellemare, Kelly J. Brisbane, Tracey M. Burto, Christian A. Cabello, Jeffrey R. Cassaberry, Kyle Clement, Robert J. Cote, Nathaniel Diclemente, Danielle N. Drayton, Elise N. Fernandez, Ashley J. Frizzola, Tomica D. Green, Christina V. Harris, Tracey L. Hebert, James D. Henderson*, Ethan T. Itchkawich, Richard J. Janulawicz, Eric T. Jones, Krystal D. Korenkiewicz, Katie L. Loomis, Benjamin J. Lord IV*, Adam MacDougall, Arieana N. Manzi, Li Miao, Laura E. Mancia-Robinson, Gabriella C. Mirsadschan, Christopher A. Moseley, Latoya L. Ortiz, Christopher M. Palardy, Kenneth R. Paquette, Alan G. Pierce, Delphine B. Platt, Troy M. Poneck, Kristina E. Raymond, Laryssa M. Reeves, Jasmine M. Relliford, Leilani Rosero, Jesse Sanchez*, Steven G. Sheriff, Samuel K. Stephanos, Desiree A. Wells, Okema L. Wilson.