Graduation has been a delicate thing to pull off this spring and summer, but one of the most heart-felt graduation ceremonies annually in Charlestown got the green light last Friday, Aug. 14, and it saw 35 adults graduate from the Charlestown Adult Education program – a record number of graduates despite the COVID-19 restrictions that hit students in March.
Director Lori D’Alleva said she was incredibly inspired by this year’s graduates and hoped they would cherish the diplomas that they earned the hard way – a path made even more challenging by COVID-19 complications.
“Many of us do this sequentially from Middle School to High School and it’s expected,” she said. “You guys took a different route…You guys are graduating in the most unique year ever…This is the biggest challenge. There are students here who tried and didn’t pass the tests up to six times and still came back to be successful. They wanted this…After you become an adult and have kids and responsibilities, this becomes extremely challenging. You guys are rock stars.”
The ceremony had been scheduled for May, but had to be postponed due to COVID-19 and few wanted to do it online. So, they waited and last Friday were able to hold the ceremony on the basketball court in Bunker Hill Development.
For the graduates, each and every story that was told was one of perseverance and coming back from tough circumstances.
Seynola Headley stood with her family, noting the irony that she was graduating on the basketball court she played on as a kid and grew up next to in Charlestown.
“I grew up here,” she said, with tears welling up. “When I came to this school, I was going through a real tough time. I just had lost my father. I owe it to my friend Erica who asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I had to think about that very hard.”
What she decided to do was persevere and pass all of her tests, including math.
Latoya Clements and her daughter shared about how they would travel for many years to the school by bus, and Clements was finally able to put it all together and get her diploma.
Clements said it had taken her years to get it done, but she never gave up and never let her kids see her give up on it.
“No matter how many times in my life I get knocked down, I’m going to always get up and go after my dreams,” said Clements. “I always let my kids see that I was in school and not giving up. I want my daughter to know mommy is strong and I want her to be strong like mommy. I want her to see me succeed. She has watched it all and she actually made it into one of the top Boston exam schools. I am getting my diploma today, but I’ve already started my first year at Benjamin Franklin Institute.”
Said her daughter, “She always made time for school and for us. My mom has been an amazing role model for us and a great student too.”
Patrick Russell explained how he was never a great student in high school, and got into a little trouble. He said he decided to “hang up the cleats” and work jobs under the table, but soon they dried up. He knew he needed to get his diploma, and he knew D’Alleva could help.
However, he also had to help himself, particularly in math.
“I took my math test in 14 minutes because I was afraid of what they would do if I failed again,” he said. “It came down to it and I passed and the staff knew I would because I wasn’t as bad at math as I thought.”
Dezsaray Crespo said staff members like D’Alleva helped push her to finish the program, even on the day of the final test when she didn’t want to get out of bed and face the challenge.
“On the day I came in to take the test, Lori pushed me to get up and out of bed,” said Crespo. “I had worked and I told her I was tired and couldn’t get up. She convinced me I had to do it. I can’t thank her enough because I wouldn’t have come in. I am so thankful because I struggled in high school.”
The graduation featured several of the graduates in person and socially distanced, with guest speakers Councilor Lydia Edwards and State Rep. Dan Ryan.