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19 pick up HS equivalency diplomas

Valedictorian Steve Potts Jr., right,speaks with Whitewater Adult Education instructor Frankie Mills after receiving his High School Equivalency Diploma Thursday.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

Despite jobs, family responsibilities and other issues that held them back, 19 area residents picked up their High School Equivalency Diplomas to the cheers and tears of friends and family. 

“You did it,” Elaine Bruns, Whitewater Adult Basic Education coordinator, said Thursday at the ceremony. “You should be so proud.”

The keynote speaker knows what the graduates have been through.

Lucy Schonfeld quit school after giving birth to her daughter at 17. She worked at a pizza restaurant at night to provide for the baby.

After a few years she realized she wanted more but needed a diploma. She earned her GED, now High School Equivalency Diploma, in 1997.

After continuing to work at the restaurant, she knew she wanted more but feared change. She married and got a job in a nursing home but wanted to give her family more.

After turning 30, she called Indiana University East and asked about enrolling.

“I told the lady on the phone I had a GED and she told me that was perfect if not better,” Schonfeld said. “I asked her why? She said that from her experience, people that go back and get their high school diploma or GED or go back to college later, work harder and are better students because they want it more.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and, later, a master’s degree in occupational therapy from IUPUI.

“I came here today to share my story so that each and everyone of you will see that you just completed the first step to be anything you want to be,” she said. “The sky is the limit and that is only if you let it.”

Graduate Tayia Lara is just 16 and did not spend time in the classroom. She left school because of being bullied and a month later enrolled in the adult education class, she said. She passed the test the first day.

“I wanted to get it over with so I said I might as well get my GED,” she explained. “I took my pretest and I tested at the college level so I didn’t have to take high school class for GED. I came back and took the regular test and passed with distinction.”

She is currently taking classes at Nellis Adult Daycare to become a certified nursing assistant. She wants to a phlebotomist.

Because of her graduation with distinction, Ivy Tech Community College has offered her two classes with no tuition charge, Lara said.

Class Valedictorian Steve Potts Jr. said he decided to go back for the High School Equivalency 16 years after leaving school.

“I spent time chasing a dream of being a musician and novelist,” he recalled. “I chased that dream and then hit 30 one day and thought maybe I needed a backup. Through encouragement of the family and wanting to be a better father to my 2-year-old son, I thought I’d do the GED and get a better job.”

He delayed partly because he did not believe he was smart enough.

He began taking classes two years ago. Just before his son’s birth, he realized he needed to work to support his son so he quit school again. The time became right to give school another try. This time, he spent two weeks in studies before taking the test, Potts said.

He credited instructors Frankie Mills and Kevin Knotts for his success. They worked with him. In two weeks, he went from basic math to doing algebra.

“I thought I was barely going to pass and I’m valedictorian,” he said. “I plan to go to Ivy Tech for a degree in robotic engineering.”

His dream of being a musician is not gone.

“The day I quit playing is the day I quit breathing,” Potts said.