Published May 14. 2014 4:00AM
Graduation season has arrived. With it comes weeks of photograph snapping, mortarboard tossing, cake eating, celebrations and hand-shaking.
In May, one group of graduates will proudly collect college degrees. In June, another set of students will happily receive high school diplomas. Still other groups of excited children will march onto auditorium stages in upcoming weeks to be handed preschool, elementary school and middle school certificates.
All deserve congratulations and praise for their achievements, but one group of too-often overlooked graduates merit special praise. These are the adult-education graduates.
About 40 Norwich Regional Adult Education students will receive high school diplomas in ceremonies in Stonington and Norwich this month. More will graduate from adult-education programs in Groton and New London. All of these student defied the odds, overcame intense challenges and personal hardships to earn these diplomas.
While so many people fondly recall their high school years as carefree and fun-filled, most adult education students had a different experience. They might have been chronically late to morning classes because it was their responsibility to get younger siblings off to school. They could have been exhausted and unable to focus in class after being awake with a fussy infant all night. Some racked up failing grades because they missed innumerable classes while caring for a seriously ill parent. Others were isolated from peers due to physical or emotional health challenges or language barriers. Still others couldn't study because afterschool hours were dedicated to working to help support their families.
The phrase high school dropout conjures negative stereotypes of unmotivated, lackadaisical or defiant students. Norwich Adult Education Director Mary Berry contends, however, that those with the courage and determination to return to school via adult education didn't fail high school at all. Indeed, high school - with its rigid schedules, pressure to conform and no-exceptions rules - failed them.
Yes, some made bad choices while in high school, choosing partying and other indulgences over studying. Adult education provided a second chance for them, too, but they had to be ready to put in the work.
Adult education provides the tools to success for those who just didn't fit in at traditional high schools. In adult education, students have the flexibility to study online, take courses at different hours of the day to accommodate work and family schedules and also to avoid the labels, stereotypes, cliques, and peer pressure so common in traditional classrooms.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in late April announced this good news: high school graduation rates throughout the country have reached an historic high of 80 percent. Connecticut's graduate rate is even better. However, as long as up to 20 of every 100 high school students do not graduate on time with their peers, adult education will remain a vital option.
Students enticed back to the classroom via adult education often have their self-esteem and their earning potentials boosted, as well as their love of learning restored. They and their teachers deserve a special nod in this season of pomp and circumstance.