Hard work pays off for GED graduates


Christopher Graves, 18, of Dale, wanted to go to college to study technical maintenance. Maria Velasquez, 31, of Huntingburg, wanted to show her children they can do anything they put their minds to, and she wanted to get a better job to provide for them. Both Graves’ and Velasquez’s dreams became possible in July when they earned high school equivalency — commonly known as GED — diplomas through Vincennes University’s adult basic education program, and participated in a graduation ceremony.

“It was a beautiful moment,” Velasquez said of the graduation.

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Maria Velasquez of Huntingburg poses for a portrait at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Wednesday. 

Her husband, Evaristo Mejivar, and two sons, Diego, 12, and Josue, 7, attended the ceremony and saw her receive her diploma.

Velasquez immigrated to the United States from El Salvador when she was 17 years old. Although she attended school in El Salvador, she didn’t finish. When she came to the U.S., she opted not to enroll in school, instead choosing to work. That was 14 years ago, before she had a family of her own. Now, she wants a better job and to set a good example for her sons.

“They look at me working hard, and they can follow my way to do the same,” Velasquez said of her sons.

The desire to be a good example led her to pursue adult basic education classes and the high school equivalency exam through Vincennes University at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Huntingburg, the same place she’d been taking English classes.

It took Velasquez a year to prepare for the exam. Juggling a full-time job at Farbest Foods and being a mom made it difficult to find time to study. But with the encouragement of her family, she did it.

“Some days I’d get home from work and be tired,” she said. “I didn’t want to go [to class], but when you want something, you have to work hard.”

She’s grateful to Mejivar for picking up more of the housework and child care in the evenings to give her time to pursue her diploma.

Velasquez has had her diploma in hand for just a couple of weeks, but she’s already making moves to improve her life more. She applied for a promotion at work.

She knows of several others in the Latino community who are pursuing a high school equivalency diploma or thinking about it, especially now that Indiana offers the test in Spanish, although the classes are in English. She always encourages others to accept the challenge. She took the classes in English, then the Spanish version of the exam, and she believes that if she can do it, so can others.

“Everybody can do it if they want,” she said. “You just have to take the time and decide you want it.”

Christopher Graves of Dale poses for a portrait at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Thursday.

Growing up, Graves never expected he’d be taking adult basic education classes or the high school equivalency exam. The home-schooled student always expected he’d have no problem getting a high school diploma. But that changed two years ago when he ran into trouble getting his transcripts from the company he took his courses through — Florida-based Abeka — and struggled to find a company-approved testing location nearby. Rather than going back and forth with Abeka, Graves opted to enroll in VU’s high school equivalency classes in Dale. He started attending in January and took the two-day high school equivalency exam in April.

The classes were an adjustment, Graves recalled. The first two days of class were filled with placement tests, which was a surprise.

“You don’t expect tests on the first day,” he said.

Being in a classroom setting was also an adjustment, since he’d not experienced that. Graves was born with a paralyzed left arm, which led to several surgeries and medications throughout his childhood. The side effects of some of the medications caused hyperactivity and other behavior problems that made attending public school challenging, so Graves’ parents opted for home schooling instead.

Although adult basic education classes weren’t part of the plan, Graves is glad he took them and got to participate in a graduation ceremony.

“Getting to see how [graduation] is done at a normal school was pretty cool,” he said.

Now, he’s looking forward to starting classes at Vincennes University Jasper Campus later this month where he’ll study technical maintenance and participate in the Career Achievement Program, which places students in internships with local companies while they pursue their degrees.

Although he hasn’t even started college classes yet, Graves is already looking forward to his second graduation and getting his first full-time job at a local company. He’s worked at Holiday World annually since he was 14, but that was seasonal.

“I’m excited for college,” he said. “But I’m more excited for after college.”

Those interested in local adult basic education classes can contact Bethany Ballard at 812-481-5925.

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