With the turn of a tassel, it was over.
Chris Wilson and 24 other students put the finishing touches on their graduation from the Lawrence Public Schools’ Adult Learning Center on Thursday night at Free State High School.
Wilson, a 28-year-old Lawrence resident, was one of two graduate speakers at the ceremony. He recounted his early struggles in the program aimed at preparing students for the GED test. He gave a heartfelt account of the time he spent working with teachers and fellow students, giving thanks to his mother, family and friends for their support.
“I’ll miss the teachers,” Wilson said. “They were big supporters that helped us and pushed us and got us there. Like that little engine that could, just barely nudged over the hill.”
Teachers and staff for the Adult Learning Center were in attendance along with Lawrence School Board President Rich Minder and other education leaders.
The 25 graduates at the ceremony Thursday were only a portion of the 88 who passed the GED test for the academic year. Many who finished the program last fall have since gone their own way.
Chris Johnson, a teacher with the center, said the program attracted people from all walks of life and took hard work and determination to finish.
“It’s a big goal to set,” Johnson said of passing the 7.5-hour test. “Finally the stars align and everything falls into place and something starts to click and we finish. That’s the reward.”
That reward was given to Jessica Cheek, 27, while her children watched from their seats. Graduates from preschool and second grade themselves, Gracee and Kelcee Reese said they were proud to see their mother finish, though they admittedly weren’t much help with the homework.
“I just played,” Kelcee laughed.
Proud father William Green watched as his son Holden, 18, walked across the stage to receive his diploma. Understanding that high school isn’t for everyone, Green was happy to see his son take an important step.
“I feel like I completed a part of my parenting that was needed,” Green said. “It’s a step now that’s already taken care of.”
And while graduates mingled with family and took pictures with friends following the ceremony, the future waited outside.
Wilson, diploma in hand, said he was ready for it.
“It’s time to start something new,” he said. “It’s time to get the ball rolling again.”