|Class of 2012 Maryland GED Graduates|
|Tuesday, 24 July 2012 14:11|
After waiting for so long to accomplish something I had once believed was unattainable, I was speechless and couldn't move. At that moment, I knew that all the hard work and stress had been completely worth it.
-Jennifer Amaya, 2012 Graduate Speaker
SILVER SPRING, MD; July 18, 2012 — Over the past year, more than 40 youth from LAYC's Maryland Mutlicultural Youth Centers (MMYC) reached the most coveted milestone in a young person's life: high school graduation. For many of the dozens of youth that come to LAYC each year in search of educational enhancement programs, this is the goal. Whether some had to drop out of high school to find a job and support families, or they were new immigrants with language needs, they all studied hard and reached that milestone. It may have taken them months or even years, what matters is that for these new graduates and the staff who helped them prepare for and pass the GED exam, it was time to celebrate. And celebrate they did along with family, friends and other supporters at the Silver Spring Civic Center.
"Success is the best thing to accomplish. Your GED is the beginning for greater success," said LAYC Board member Jesse Mejia who gave the keynote address. "True success wants to be surrounded by successful people. It begins with education."
Jennifer Amaya, a young woman that became pregnant in high school and dropped out on a counselor's advice was among the graduates. Her mother attended the ceremony and watched as her daughter delivered the class' inspirational speech, "While most kids my age were getting their first job as cashiers, saving their money, and getting ready to start college, I was a single mother working the night shift to pay the bills." Jennifer spoke about the teachers at LAYC/MMYC who saw her potential and inspired her to get her GED, "Miss Shannon had found one thing that we all shared in common − a sincere desire to earn a second chance and make up for lost time." Ivonne Grande was aslo a class speaker. Read Ivonne's speech here. Jennifer's speech appears below.
Class of 2012 Graduation Speech by Jennifer Amaya
Good evening MMYC staff, students, graduates, and guests. Tonight I would like to tell the story of how, after putting a hold to my dream of graduating from high school to take care of my daughter Jamilia, I was given a second chance to make it happen. Like many of my classmates, at first I did not see the value of a strong education. When I was in high school, I moved out my parents' house and, since I didn't have any rules to follow, all I did was party every night and show up to school on the rare occasions that I felt like it. Then at eighteen I went through a high risk pregnancy which forced me to stop attending school all together.
Now all the fun and partying was over, and I had to deal with the tough reality of being a teen mother. While most kids my age were getting their first job as cashiers, saving their money, and getting ready to start college, I was a single mother working the night shift to pay the bills. After Jamilia was born, I got a job at Target working from 10:00 pm to 7:00 am. Because I constantly had to pick up heavy boxes, I felt sore all the time. One day I even had a plastic pallet fall on my foot, but I had to just suck it up and keep working because I knew that my little girl counted on me to clothe and feed her.
For a while it seemed as though keeping up with the daily responsibilities of motherhood were all that I could take on and that there was no possibility of ever returning to school. But then, thanks to the encouragement and motivation of a friend, I became open to the possibility of a second chance. I learned that at the Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers the staff were dedicated to their students and would do whatever it took to help people like myself to not only obtain a high school diploma but transform themselves into professional minded young adults. With a new sense of determination, I got the number, gave them a call, and set up an appointment.
On the day of my interview I met with Miss Shannon, the GED Instructor, and, Miss Cintia, my new Case Manager. Over the phone Miss Shannon had told me "if you want me view you as a serious candidate then you'd better be here 15 minutes early." So then, as if I wasn't already nervous enough, I learned firsthand about the elevators at MMYC. After being stuck between floors for what seemed like forever, I walked into the interview a little shaken but determined to win a spot on the next class roster. My initial nerves quickly wore away when they both told me that I had some impressive goals and a mature mindset. At first I thought "I'm really here for Jamilia." But then Miss Shannon and Miss Cintia helped me realize that if I truly wanted to be the best mother possible then I needed to be here for me.
At orientation I met the new and old students. Some were teen parents like myself. Others had partied too much like me and were ready to make up for lost time. Some regretted how their anger and loneliness had caused them to act out in class. Others had tried to escape the stress of their neighborhood and their family by going to skipping parties, only to be told by their counselors that it was too late when they finally decided to put some effort into their studies. While there was great diversity amongst us, it was evident that over the course of our interviews Miss Shannon had found one thing that we all shared in common- a sincere desire to earn a second chance and make up for lost time.
Once I was accepted into the GED Program, I was initially very nervous in class. It had been three years since I had been in school and I felt like all of the other students knew more than I did. I tried the old trick of sitting in the back and pretending like I was concentrating really hard on my notes so that I wouldn't get called on. But anyone who's been in Miss Shannon's class knows that the more you try to hide, the more likely you are to be put on blast. By working with my classmates on group assignments, I soon learned that I was not the only one that didn't have all the answers but that by working as a team we could each make a contribution and eventually arrive at the correct answer. Little by little, my knowledge and my confidence grew. I was no longer scared to ask for help or too intimidated to explain things in front of a group of people. Most importantly, unlike in high school or at Target, I had a voice and felt the empowerment of sharing my ideas and expressing my opinions.
Now, I'm not going to lie and say that everything was easy. My fellow graduates sharing the stage with me tonight know that's not the case. Many of us had to balance the stresses of work and class. Then on top of that, I had other responsibilities that could not be put aside such as feeding, bathing, playing with, and cleaning up after my toddler. Some nights all I wanted to do was relax or go to bed. But that little voice in the back of my head kept telling me that Miss Shannon would call on me in the morning if I showed up to class without everything in my homework folder complete. To make matters worse, outside of the classroom I typically felt little support or encouragement. But when others told me that I was a dropout and just wasting my time on a lost dream, I looked to my classmates like Melvin Reyes and Erika Canas and remembered that I was not the only one worthy of a second chance. Staff members like Miss Shannon, Miss Cintia, and Miss Liz all helped me realize in their own ways just how far I had already come and that I shouldn't waste my time worrying about what my haters have to say. I know that in the future there will be times when I want to accomplish something and I will have no support from anyone except myself. It will be then that I remember their words and become even more determined not to quit.
Throughout my time as a GED student, I always kept in mind my future and reminded myself of how much easier things would be after finishing the program. I thought about how I would no longer have to settle for a risky job just to barely get the bills paid. I thought about how proud of myself I would be and the example I will have set for my daughter of a confident, independent woman.
In the months that I spent in the GED class, time and time again I would see my peers sit in the spot light chair as students and staff made speeches about the nice things they had done during their time in the program. I was proud of all that my friends had accomplished and cheered when they read their passing scores. But deep down inside I was jealous. Then finally my big day arrived. With butterflies in my stomach I searched Miss Shannon's face trying to figure out from her expression whether I had passed or not, but as you all know she wasn't giving anything away. Instead she just asked "Do you think you passed." Then I read it. "Dear Jennifer Amaya, Congratulations for achieving the Maryland High School Diploma." After waiting for so long to accomplish something I had once believed was unattainable, I was speechless and couldn't move. At that moment, I knew that all the hard work and stress had been completely worth it.
I know that my fellow graduates would agree with me when I say that MMYC and the GED Program didn't merely help me accomplish my goal of a high school diploma. It truly helped me become a better person. The internships helped me grow professionally while case management and counseling helped me prioritize my goals and not let the barriers in my life keep me from moving forward. Because of the relationships I built with my classmates, I am no longer the shy, soft spoken girl that I used to be. Miss Shannon taught me to speak my mind, ask questions, and try new things. Thanks to the college reps I met and university campuses I visited, I now realize that my education won't stop at a high school diploma. Next week I will participate in College Summit and be one step closer to accomplishing my next goal of obtaining a minor in business and a bachelor's degree in criminal justice so that I can then become a private detective. I now see my future as bright and my options as many as I choose them to be. I am truly grateful to MMYC for all the opportunities I have had to learn from both the staff and my peers alike. Here you feel as though you are part of one big family. We are all proud of each other and look to each other for help and motivation. I want to thank Miss Shannon for being such a great GED Instructor and to all the staff at MMYC for believing in us. To all of the graduates from Silver Spring and Langley Park, I am so very proud of you! We finally did it! Congratulations class of 2012!
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