'You are the heroes in your own stories'

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Thirty-four GED graduates were awarded their certificates Thursday at a graduation ceremony at the Centre for the Performing and Visual Arts.

By JEFF BISHOP jbishop@newnan.com Thirty-four GED graduates were awarded their certificates Thursday at a graduation ceremony at the Centre for the Performing and Visual Arts. Sharpsburg resident Lisa Eason, assistant commissioner for administration for the Technical College System of Georgia, told the graduates that she could understand their accomplishment because she had been there herself, having dropped out of school in the ninth grade.
"When you walk across the stage tonight, you have something very special, that will be uniquely yours," she said. The GED certificate will "open doors for you," she said. "This will change your lives for the better, and it doesn't matter whether you're 17 or 70. Congratulations to each and every one of you." Eason said that she has a special understanding of their situation because, "I, too, have been in your shoes. "I am a proud recipient of a GED," she said. Eason said that although the family members of the graduates are doubtless behind them and supporting them, "No one will ever be able to fully understand what this means to you. Only someone who's been through it will ever really know." She said that each graduate likely has an "immensely personal story to tell." Some had families to raise or hardships to overcome, she said, and many had "made a few bad choices along the way. But that's life. Don't be ashamed. Life is not easy. When you're learning to walk, you're going to fall down a few times. That just makes us stronger as individuals." Eason said that she made mistakes, too. "I tripped up. I dropped out. And I was too young to understand the consequences." She grew up in a textile mill village in Tennessee. When she was in 9th grade, it seemed to be the time to get married and have children, she said. So she began her life "in a rental house in a mill town. "The money wasn't good, the work was hard, and I had a one-way ticket to nowhere," said Eason. One day a position came open for a sewing instructor. She knew she could do the job as well as anyone, but there was one hitch. "They required a high school diploma or a GED," she said. "I realized then that I was never going to be promoted because I was a high school dropout." So she studied hard, she took the test, and that was the first step to getting out of a dead-end existence, she said. But she didn't start there. She and her three children moved to Georgia and she enrolled in college. Eason said she worked the night shift, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., then "for one hour I came home and fed the kids" before heading off to classes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. "Then I would go home, feed the kids dinner, study a lot and sleep a little before doing it all over again," she said. "And I did that again and again and again," said Eason. "I can't tell you how many times I wanted to quit," she said. "I was getting no sleep and it just seemed like too much to handle." But she said she "stuck with it" because she didn't want to be a dropout again. "It took me six years to do it," she said, but she eventually earned her degree in accounting. In February she was promoted to assistant commissioner for the technical college system, and she now oversees the budget of the GED program --which could be seen as ironic, she said. "I guess that's not too bad for a 9th grade dropout," she said. Meanwhile, the mill she worked for has closed down "because they could find cheaper labor in China," she said. She praised the graduates for taking the first step into a world of possibilities. "Obtaining a GED is going to change your life in so many ways," she said. "You are the heroes in your own stories, and the best chapter is yet to come. You've received your GED. What happens next is entirely up to you. "Don't ever stop learning. Don't ever give up on yourself," she said. "And never be afraid to take chances. "You've achieved much, but much is yet to come." Perrin Alford, provost of West Georgia Technical College, urged the graduates to enroll in post-secondary education as soon as possible. "Set big goals for yourself," he said. "Dream big dreams. If you dream it, you can achieve it. I really believe that."


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